Even before the final primary contests in Montana and South Dakota, the presidential candidates had spent almost $200 million flooding the television sets of Americans with their campaign messages. The Democrats, with their long, drawn-out primary season, have outspent the Republicans by a lot, with Barack Obama doling out more on TV ads than all the Republican candidates combined. Hillary Clinton outspent Obama early on, but after Super Tuesday, he consistently had the financial advantage and bought more ads, though not always winning in those states.
Democrats overall have paid close to $135 million for TV ads, with Obama spending about $75 million and Clinton shelling out $46 million, according to data from TNS Media Intelligence/CMAG with analysis by the Wisconsin Advertising Project. Early on, Clinton threw more money at TV spots in New Hampshire and Nevada, states she won. Then on Super Tuesday, she advertised more heavily in her home state of New York and in Massachusetts, a state she won despite the prominent Obama endorsements from Massachusetts Sens. Ted Kennedy and John Kerry. She also spent more in Idaho, a state Obama won and didn't advertise in at all, and Oklahoma, where Clinton won by double digits. But after Super Tuesday, Obama outspent Clinton in every race, including those in Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Texas where he lost by large margins to the former first lady.
For the Democrats, healthcare has been the biggest issue depicted in their advertisements. And while John McCain is better known for having flags in his ads, Obama showcases flags in 30 percent of his TV spots.
Across the political aisle, the GOP candidates spent almost $58 million, with McCain's campaign accounting for $11 million of the total. McCain clinched the Republican nomination in early March, and while his earlier ads portrayed the Arizona senator as the national security candidate, later ads have highlighted his views on domestic issues.
In part because of the prolonged Democratic nomination battle, interest groups have advertised but not in the full force they very likely will once the general election campaign officially begins. So far, interest groups have spent about $8 million on television advertising, with the heftiest amount coming from the Service Employees International Union, which endorsed Obama. The other top spenders included the American Leadership Project and AFSCME, both advocating for Clinton. And because there has been no definitive Democratic nominee, interest groups on the right have stayed fairly quiet, but after playing such a prominent role in 2004, they too will surely soon begin advertising heavily throughout the summer and into the fall.