As former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg rolls out his late-starting campaign for president this week, Texas is getting a big chunk of the billionaire’s television spending.
On Monday, Bloomberg began advertising on broadcast television in the Austin, Dallas-Fort Worth, El Paso, Harlingen-Weslaco, Houston and San Antonio markets. More than $3 million will go toward Texas airwaves, according to Advertising Analytics, a Virginia-based company that tracks ad buys throughout the 2020 election.
Texas is one of 32 states in which Bloomberg is spending a total of $35 million on air time, which represents the largest one-week television buy in political history, according to Advertising Analytics. In Texas, his ads will remain on the airwaves until Dec. 2.
Bloomberg also has more than $1 million booked in Washington state, North Carolina, Illinois and Ohio, and nearly $1 million in Michigan, according to CNN. The top five markets Bloomberg is spending in are New York, Los Angeles, Houston, Dallas and Miami.
No other presidential candidate has run broadcast television ads in Texas yet. Bloomberg’s advisers have said he plans to skip the four traditional early-state contests in Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada, and instead focus his campaign in Super Tuesday states, which include Texas.
“Texas is a pretty expensive media market, and some of the lower-tier campaigns will have trouble competing in Texas,” said Nicco Mele, a lecturer at the Harvard Kennedy School. “Bloomberg is looking for states where money is leverage.”
One of Bloomberg’s TV ads is a biographical one that was airing in the Dallas and Houston markets as of Monday morning. The 60-second spot discusses how he built his business and later became mayor of New York City as it was reeling from the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
“A three-term mayor who helped bring it back from the ashes, bringing jobs and thousands of affordable housing units with it,” a narrator says. “Jobs creator. Leader. Problem solver. Mike Bloomberg for president.”
A second ad, which was also running in Dallas and Houston, according to Advertising Analytics, focuses on the middle class.
“In the shadow of 9/11, Mike is elected mayor of a shaken city. He rebuilds, creating 400,000 new jobs to help the struggling middle class, improving care and safety for seniors and raising teacher pay and graduation rates,” the narrator says.
The ads — and the huge personal fortune thrown behind them — are a preview to the financial force Bloomberg plans to utilize to shape his White House bid. His $30 million purchase eclipses all of Bloomberg’s Democratic rivals’ spending on television ads for the year, save for fellow billionaire Tom Steyer, according to The New York Times.
A spokesman for Bloomberg told The Texas Tribune Monday afternoon that “Mike is prepared to spend what’s needed to defeat Trump.”
Rivals, including Texan Julián Castro, have chided Bloomberg for using his financial force to attempt to sway the Democratic presidential primary.
“Ten months in Billionaire Michael Bloomberg is jumping in the race to use his personal fortune to try and buy the nomination,” Castro wrote in a fundraising plea to supporters. “We don’t need another ego-driven billionaire flooding the airwaves. We know your support isn’t for sale.”
But there’s no telling if Bloomberg’s strategy is a winning one.
“There’s many, many examples of candidates who have tried to spend their own money as a way to win elections, and it typically does not work,” said Stephanie Martin, an assistant professor of political communications at Southern Methodist University.
His aides told the Associated Press this weekend Bloomberg would not accept donations, essentially precluding him for hitting the donor threshold required to make the December debate stage.
This isn’t the first time Bloomberg has given Texas early attention. Last week, before his White House bid became official, he announced a plan to spend an estimated $15 million to $20 million on a voter registration drive, targeting five states including Texas. And on Wednesday, Bloomberg filed for the Democratic presidential primary in Texas — weeks before the Dec. 9 deadline and before officially announcing his White House bid.
But waiting to compete until the March Super Tuesday elections is risky; in most election cycles, nominating contests were all but decided after the first four early states. And Bloomberg has not registered as a serious contender in any Democratic primary poll.
“He’s engaged in a high-risk, high-reward strategy because he’s depending on primary voters in second-tier states to hold off and not fall into line with the candidates who entered early,” Martin said.
Bloomberg wasn’t mentioned in the most recent University of Texas/Texas Tribune Poll in early November. Joe Biden led the state in that poll, with 23% of voters expressing support for the former vice president. He was followed by Elizabeth Warren at 18% and Texan Beto O’Rourke, who has since dropped out of the race, at 14%. Just 5% of Texas voters said they didn’t know whom they would support.
Disclosure: Southern Methodist University has been a financial supporter of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune’s journalism. Find a complete list of them here.