Republicans spend over $100 million on Iowa ads, with more to come

Republican presidential candidates and outside groups have blanketed the Iowa airwaves ahead of the first-in-the-nation caucuses, spending nearly $105 million on ads there in 2023. 

And that figure is set to grow by at least another $7.5 million before the Jan. 15 caucuses, according to upcoming ad reservations tracked by the firm AdImpact. It’s being driven by former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley’s late push for a strong finish in Iowa, after former President Donald Trump and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis spent most of 2023 polling first and second there.

While Trump has held consistent leads over the rest of the Republican field in recent Iowa polling, recent shifts in ad spending in the state also reflect broader shifts in the GOP race.

South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott’s campaign and an aligned outside group dominated the Iowa airwaves over the summer and early fall. But after Scott dropped out of the race in November, ad spending to boost Haley jumped, along with spending to support Trump and DeSantis.

SFA Fund Inc, a super PAC supporting Haley, has emerged as the top advertiser in Iowa, spending $25 million in 2023, per AdImpact. The super PAC also has the most ad money laid down for the last two weeks: nearly $3.3 million. Haley’s campaign is looking for a strong showing in Iowa, followed by at least a solid second-place finish in New Hampshire, betting the field could winnow after the first two contests and leave Haley to take on Trump in her home state of South Carolina.

Haley and her allies are focusing on electability in some of their closing arguments in Iowa, and there will likely be more new ads to come in the final two weeks before the caucuses.

Haley’s campaign, which has spent $4.6 million on ads there and has another $1.3 million reserved for the closing weeks, recently launched a TV ad touting polling that shows her defeating President Joe Biden in a hypothetical rematch. And SFA Fund Inc. launched a similar ad touting Haley as the candidate who can defeat Biden.

The Haley super PAC has also put major money behind ads criticizing DeSantis in recent weeks, including one that just shows a dumpster on fire while a rotating cast of audio commentators roast the DeSantis campaign. 

Never Back Down, a super PAC backing DeSantis, has been the next-largest spender on the Iowa airwaves, dropping $17.6 million on ads in 2023. But Never Back Down recently pulled its ad reservations as the group grappled with internal turmoil and focused on its grassroots operation; other pro-DeSantis groups are looking to fill the gap.

Fight Right and Good Fight, two other super PACs backing the Florida governor, have spent a combined $1.3 million in Iowa ads reserved in January.

DeSantis’ campaign has also focused its resources on the Hawkeye State, spending $2.3 million on the Iowa airwaves in 2023, with another $400,000-plus scheduled for the next two weeks.

The DeSantis campaign has touted his endorsement from GOP Gov. Kim Reynolds, launching a TV ad featuring Reynolds in mid-November that it has kept on the air.  

Meanwhile, Fight Right targeted its two Iowa ads against Haley, with its most recent spot criticizing Haley’s past comments on China and labeling her “tricky Nikki.”

The most-viewed TV ads in almost every Iowa media market over the past week have been an anti-DeSantis spot from SFA and an anti-Haley spot from Fight Right. But while Haley’s campaign has also been spending heavily to fill the airwaves with a positive message featuring her, DeSantis’ campaign has not had as much money to spend.

While Fight Right has focused its fire on Haley, Good Fight’s ad in heaviest rotation over the holidays featured Casey DeSantis speaking straight to camera about her husband, speaking with emotion as she described him taking care of her and their family while she was fighting cancer.

In addition to sparring with Haley, DeSantis has taken some hits from Trump’s campaign in Iowa, with one recent ad featuring footage of DeSantis praising Trump.

The pro-Trump super PAC MAGA Inc. has spent $11.4 million in Iowa — but it last aired a TV ad in early December, when it contrasted Trump with Biden. Trump’s campaign has spent $4.1 million on ads in Iowa.

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Former President Donald Trump at a campaign event in Waterloo, Iowa, on Dec. 19.Scott Olson / Getty Images

As some campaigns and outside groups have ramped up ad spending, businessman Vivek Ramaswamy’s campaign shifted resources away from the airwaves to focus on voter outreach via mail, text, calls and door-knocking. Ramaswamy’s campaign has spent just $1.9 million on the Iowa airwaves, with his most recent TV ad there featuring his piano teacher.