With the Iowa caucuses 40 days away, airwaves are filled with Haley vs. DeSantis attack ads, jibes from Vivek Ramaswamy and earnest pleas from Chris Christie.
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Clockwise from top left: Chris Christie, Nikki Haley, Ron DeSantis and Vivek Ramaswamy. The candidates’ recent TV ads may offer a window into how Wednesday night’s debate will unfold.
If the Republican presidential candidates’ television advertisements offer a preview of Wednesday night’s debate, viewers can expect harsh accusations flying between Ron DeSantis and Nikki Haley, stinging barbs from Vivek Ramaswamy and earnest, if somewhat contorted, appeals from Chris Christie.
It is not clear if the debate will be the final encounter of the top, non-Trump candidates before the Iowa caucuses, which are just 40 days away. Only four candidates are taking the stage, and one of them — Mr. Christie, the former New Jersey governor — is not actively campaigning in Iowa.
Here is a guide to the ads, which might at the very least offer some fresh ideas for Debate Night Bingo:
Haley versus DeSantis
In Iowa, where polls show Ms. Haley, the former United Nations ambassador and former governor of South Carolina, gaining on Mr. DeSantis, the governor of Florida, the two have been locked in an advertising battle.
A new super PAC backing Mr. DeSantis, with the specific mission of attacking Ms. Haley in advertisements, has spent more than $2.75 million on broadcast time in Iowa, according to an analysis by AdImpact, a media-tracking company. (The group, Fight Right, emerged amid tensions in the DeSantis camp and among leaders of another DeSantis-aligned super PAC, Never Back Down, which has long served as his surrogate campaign operation. As of this week, Never Back Down had spent more than $39 million on advertising time in this election cycle, the AdImpact analysis shows.)
One of the group’s ads features clips ostensibly showing Ms. Haley praising Hillary Clinton. “We know her as Crooked Hillary,” the ad says, “but to Nikki Haley, she’s a role model.”
At the same time, a super PAC backing Ms. Haley, Stand for America, has aired broadcast and digital ads in recent weeks accusing Mr. DeSantis of lying about his position on fracking and offshore drilling. Stand for America has spent more than $30 million on advertising time this election cycle.
The super PAC has also released ads accusing Mr. DeSantis of lying about Ms. Haley. “He’s lying because he’s losing,” the ads conclude.
“Poor Ron DeSantis,” a narrator says in another Stand for America ad, over playful music and accompanied by a picture of Mr. DeSantis in a pair of white rubber boots. “His attacks on Nikki Haley? As phony as his boots.”
DeSantis’s all-in approach
Mr. DeSantis and the two super PACs backing him have, in recent weeks, shifted nearly all their resources to Iowa, an all-in strategy aimed at winning the first votes in the primary season.
His campaign has also started taking out its own ads, including digital ads in which he appeals for small-dollar donations — a notable shift for a candidate who entered the race months ago backed by a super PAC with more than $100 million, and with more than $20 million in a campaign committee and ample interest from major donors. He has long struggled to attract smaller donors.
A major DeSantis broadcast ad, which first aired on Monday, features the endorsements of several Iowans. (As is often the case with real-life voter testimonials, their faces can sometimes look as if they are begrudging participants in a civil deposition.)
The voices include a farmer who says it is “time to move on”; a combat veteran, seated in the bed of his pickup, who says Mr. DeSantis “knows how to win”; and a “mom of three” who says, “When Ron DeSantis says he’s going to do something, he does it.”
But Mr. DeSantis’s most important Iowa endorsement, and the one most prominently featured in his recent ads, is that of Gov. Kim Reynolds, who officially backed Mr. DeSantis last month. “He knows the sacrifices of war, and the miracle of a beating heart,” Ms. Reynolds says in one ad paid for by Never Back Down.
A super PAC backing Mr. Trump has in recent weeks released ads in Iowa attacking Mr. DeSantis, including one that raises alarm about previous remarks in which Mr. DeSantis appeared to express support for Puerto Rican statehood. The group has also taken out a series of ads praising Mr. Trump’s presidency, recalling times when gas prices were lower and groceries were cheaper. Mr. Trump’s campaign itself has taken out more than $2 million in ads in Iowa and New Hampshire, according to AdImpact.
Ramaswamy tries something new
Mr. Ramaswamy, known for his combative rhetorical style in debates and interviews, has been running ads that roughly stick to that formula: confrontational digital posts, broadcast spots accusing his opponents of wanting to start World War III, ads declaring economic independence from China.
But there is an exception. One broadcast ad from Mr. Ramaswamy’s campaign features his childhood piano teacher, Mary Ann Jordan, speaking to the camera over the sound of a mellow piano rendition of Irving Berlin’s “God Bless America.” Ms. Jordan says: “I would teach Vivek about the Constitution after his piano lesson. I taught Vivek to love liberty. Vivek is a true conservative. I put him in that same category with Ronald Reagan and Donald Trump.”
Christie’s earnest if spare presence
Mr. Christie’s presence in ads has been slight in recent weeks. He has limited his campaigning to New Hampshire, where polls put him in third place behind Mr. Trump and Ms. Haley.
One broadcast ad from his super PAC outlines his priorities for the presidency: curbing inflation, promoting law and order and strengthening the military. But it includes some puzzling grammatical constructions:
“A Christie presidency will be a presidency where America leads not just our country but the world.” (America leads … America?)
The ad goes on: “The courage to tell the truth. The experience to get it done.” (To get … the truth done?)
Rebecca Davis O’Brien covers campaign finance and money in U.S. elections. She previously covered federal law enforcement, courts and criminal justice. More about Rebecca Davis O’Brien
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