Ron DeSantis prepares to pour millions into Iowa ad campaign

Florida Gov. ’ campaign is making its first move in the Iowa air wars, with a $2 million ad buy in the state starting in mid-November and running through the night of the caucuses Jan. 15.

The move will make the campaign the first to reserve airtime in Iowa through the caucuses — and it underlines how important the state is to DeSantis’ presidential hopes. Last week, the campaign announced that a third of its staff will be relocating there from Tallahassee, Florida. Now, the spending is another sign of how former President ’s rivals are investing in the state in the hopes of denying him the momentum of a first-in-the-nation victory in January.

The new ad buy is a significant portion of the DeSantis campaign’s budget, after it entered October with $5 million cash on hand available to spend in the primary. DeSantis reported raising $15 million across several entities in the third quarter, but some of that cash is unavailable for direct spending in the primary election.

Campaign officials said DeSantis raised an additional $1 million within 48 hours of announcing the third-quarter fundraising, pointing to this and the coming ad buy as evidence that the dire financial situation that plagued the beginning of his campaign is turning around.

The campaign also hopes this ad buy will help put to bed rumors fueled by Trump and his allies that DeSantis will soon be dropping out of the race, instead instilling confidence in donors and supporters.

“We are in this for the long haul, and this media buy is another demonstration to early-state voters that we are going to aggressively work to earn their support,” DeSantis campaign manager James Uthmeier said.

Why invest so much of what the campaign has in reserve? “This is just the start. We’re playing to win in Iowa, then on to New Hampshire, and we will have the resources needed to get the job done,” said David Polyansky, DeSantis’ deputy campaign manager.

The campaign’s theory of the case is that Iowa is the best place to stop Donald Trump from parading through the rest of the primary season to an inevitable victory.

It’s also the state in which public polls show DeSantis in the best current position, though Trump still leads him by approximately 30 points in the public polling averages. In recent polls of New Hampshire and South Carolina, former United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley has climbed into second place. And the Trump campaign crowed about its own financial position last week, claiming it has millions more to spend on the primary.

Polyansky said the campaign’s “aim isn’t to compete with the former president on a press release about finances or argue about a non-existent national primary. Rather, our goal has always been to put him on the defensive in Iowa.”

Already, the DeSantis campaign feels it is succeeding in goading Trump into a fight in Iowa, noting the former president’s increased recent presence in the Hawkeye State and his super PAC’s spending — about $5 million so far this cycle.

“Now we’ve proven our ability to regroup, raise the resources we need, and build the organization prepared to compete to win in Iowa and then take the fight straight to New Hampshire and beyond,” Uthmeier added.

So far, most of the ad spending this election cycle has come from super PACs and other outside groups, not from campaigns themselves. Republicans have already spent a whopping $140 million on ads in the presidential race, according to the ad-tracking firm AdImpact. Around 70% of that has come from super PACs backing a specific GOP candidate. In the Iowa primary, Republicans have spent a combined $49 million on ads, with super PACs aligned with specific candidates accounting for two-thirds of that total.

But there are a couple of key differences when campaigns themselves dole out the dollars.

Campaigns get better rates than outside groups for the same ad slots, so their cash goes farther than the same amount spent by a super PAC. Plus, campaigns can have their candidates participate in the ads. Super PACs aren’t legally allowed to coordinate on strategy with campaigns. So while they could use footage from the trail or news clips for their ads, they can’t script an ad for a candidate.

The DeSantis campaign is planning to do just that, telling NBC News that the governor’s new ad campaign will have a personalized touch and will be an opportunity for him to speak directly to voters, asking for their support without getting filtered through someone else’s lens. DeSantis advisers hope this will help reinforce what he has been doing on the ground, as he makes his way closer to completing the “Full Grassley” — a complete tour of Iowa’s 99 counties in local political parlance. He has now visited 74 counties.

Still, DeSantis will not be the only one on TV. Sen. Tim Scott’s campaign first started spending significantly on ads in Iowa in late May, and the South Carolinian has not gone off the air since then, according to an NBC News analysis of AdImpact data. Since the start of the cycle, Scott’s campaign has spent $6.4 million on ads in Iowa, the most of any presidential candidate. That includes $1.8 million on ads from Sept. 1 to now, when he has been the only candidate spending major money on the air in Iowa.

The next closest candidate in total Iowa ad spending is North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum, who has spent $2.6 million.

As DeSantis prepares to jump into the ad wars, he’s also preparing to take some hits from the front-runner.

“There is no doubt that the Trump side will continue to add on to the millions of dollars they have already wasted on false attacks against Ron DeSantis in Iowa.” Polyansky said. He added: “Their actions signal what we all know — that it is either Ron DeSantis or Donald Trump in Iowa … and for the nomination.”

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