Maine will see unprecedented amounts of political ad spending in the 2020 presidential cycle, with a nationally targeted U.S. Senate race drawing more than twice what has ever been spent on a single campaign here, according to a recent report.
Broadcast TV, digital and cable political ad spending is expected to reach $6 billion nationally in 2020, according to a July report from Advertising Analytics and Cross Screen Media. Maine’s share will be driven by the seat held by Republican U.S. Sen. Susan Collins and the presidential race.
That national figure would be a 57 percent overall increase from 2018 and the biggest part of that growth would be a doubling of digital ad spending on platforms including Facebook, where small demographic groups can be targeted.
Maine voters may not notice more TV ads around Election Day than they have in past years, though the blitz could start earlier in the year and it could be accompanied by more targeting on social media, which is already being heavily used by one of Collins’ Democratic opponents.
The report projected that Collins’ race would see $55 million in advertising across those platforms, which would make it the fifth-most expensive Senate race in 2020. Maine is expected to see another $13 million in ad spending in the presidential race. Both would be staggering examples of national money pouring into the state.
The most expensive race in Maine history was the 2018 campaigns in the 2nd Congressional District, where candidates and outside groups spent $23.2 million on all campaign activities, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. Only $6.1 million in ads were purchased in Maine to influence the 2012 and 2016 presidential elections combined.
The airwaves were saturated in 2018, driven by the 2nd District. Cary Weston, a partner at the Bangor marketing firm of Sutherland Weston, said the volume of ads can’t be much higher than last year, though prices for the airtime are likely to rise sharply with spending as high as projected.
“It’s loud, it’s obnoxious, it’s everywhere,” he said of political advertising. “I really don’t think anyone’s going to notice because it’s so loud and obnoxious anyway.”
Nationally, the July report projected digital ad spending would more than double to $740 million in 2018 to $1.6 billion in 2020. Maine House Speaker Sara Gideon, one of five Democrats running for the nomination to face Collins, has been aggressive on Facebook, where there is effectively no limit to how much ad space can be bought.
Her campaign spent nearly $350,000 as of Friday, putting her 57th in spending on the platform — more than any other Senate candidate and Democratic presidential hopeful Beto O’Rourke — over a 90-day period. She has run more than 6,300 ads targeted largely at national fundraising.
The increased TV ad spending would also be a major boon to local broadcast stations. Advertising executives for three Maine stations didn’t respond to interview requests, but the state is known for having cheap ad rates relative to the nation.
The high expected level of spending in 2020 is likely to lead networks to raise rates before Election Day. Federal rules force stations to charge political candidates their lowest available rates, but rates rise as an election gets closer. Campaigns effectively bid against each other for time while crowding out businesses. Stations can charge outside groups whatever they want.
Watch: An interview with U.S. Sen. Susan Collins