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Steyer Gets Return on Ad Investment, Makes Des Moines Debate Stage

Money talks: Tom Steyer’s early state ads paying off. Photo: Joe Raedle/Getty Images

It was generally thought that the field for the January 14 Democratic presidential debate in Des Moines would be limited to five candidates with the qualifying deadline arriving tomorrow. But on the wings of two great poll findings from Fox News in Nevada and South Carolina, billionaire activist Tom Steyer leapt to the stage in one big jump. Fox put him at 12 percent in Nevada and 15 percent in South Carolina — which not only gave him the requisite four total qualifying polls of over 5 percent, but also met the alternative polling threshold of over 7 percent in the early states.

Steve Kornacki offered a good quick explanation of this surprise:

No question about that ad spending:

And while Bloomberg has focused on Super Tuesday (March 3) states and those that vote even later, Steyer has been heavily spending on ads in the early states. It makes some sense, as Kornacki says, that with other candidates mostly campaigning in Iowa and New Hampshire, Steyer would get the most bang for his bucks in the next two states. Here’s how Politico explained it:

In six months he’s shoveled out $11.2 million in South Carolina on TV spots and lots of direct mail appeals. In Nevada, he’s put out $10.3 million in television and radio ads so far, and has an additional $270,000 booked. That’s well ahead of the second-highest spender in the state: Warren, who has $1.2 million aired or booked through February. 

His most recent TV spot, airing exclusively in South Carolina and Nevada markets, features mostly black and Hispanic voters lauding his ability to beat Trump. One ad in Nevada is entirely in Spanish. 

In South Carolina, which is the largest early state by population but votes fourth in the Democratic nominating process, Steyer is outspending the rest of the field by several million dollars, including Biden, who has earmarked over $800,000 in ads there so far but has promised $6 million to spend closer to the Feb. 29 primary.

Still, the sheer magnitude of this Steyer Surge is surprising, as is its impact on other candidates. In those same two Fox News polls, Pete Buttigieg has all but vanished: he’s at 6 percent in Nevada and four percent in South Carolina (Pete did get good news from a new Monmouth poll of New Hampshire, where he led the field with 20 percent of the vote; Steyer was only at 4 percent there). Tomorrow’s much-anticipated Iowa Poll from Ann Selzer will provide a fresh look at the standing of the various candidates in the state hosting next Tuesday’s debate.

The Fox polls were a bitter disappointment for another candidate fighting to qualify for the Des Moines debate, Andrew Yang; he came in at 4 percent in Nevada and just two percent in South Carolina.

It remains to be see whether Steyer can convey this continued access to the debate stage and all this ad spending into a viable path to the nomination. But when he takes the stage in Des Moines, he may take grim satisfaction in the knowledge that for the first time his rivals may take him seriously enough to go after him.

Steyer Gets Return on Ad Investment, Makes Iowa Debate Stage