Elizabeth Warren campaign shifts ad spending after struggle in New Hampshire primary

The candidate made significant rearrangements in TV buys.

February 12, 2020, 6:59 PM

After unimpressive results in the first two Democratic party contests in Iowa and New Hampshire, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., is making significant rearrangements in her television presence in two upcoming contests.

In the past week, the Warren campaign has canceled or moved more than $1.2 million worth of television ads in Nevada and South Carolina, which are scheduled to cast votes later this month.

The campaign began pulling ads from Nevada and South Carolina on Monday last week amid the chaotic Iowa caucuses -- cancelling more than $660,000 worth of ads from the two states, according to the ad research firm CMAG/Kantar in Washington, D.C.

The day of her fourth-place finish in the New Hampshire primary, they cut another $370,000 in South Carolina, moving the majority of that money to Nevada, according to the Warren campaign. Nevada holds caucuses a week before the South Carolina primary.

The Warren campaign also added a $67,000 placement in Maine, a Super Tuesday state slated to vote on March 3, and about $40,000 of ads to radio stations and print newspapers in South Carolina.

Based on CMAG’s data and the campaign’s account of its spending, Warren is now left with about $1 million in Nevada and South Carolina in coming weeks, with no placements in any of the Super Tuesday states, other than the modest sum in Maine.

Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Elizabeth Warren appears at her New Hampshire primary night rally in Manchester, N.H., Feb. 11, 2020.
Brian Snyder/Reuters

Meanwhile, her rivals in the Democratic field have been making aggressive investments on television ads. Sen. Bernie Sanders already has spent nearly $4 million on television ads in California and Texas, and Sen. Amy Klobuchar on Monday added $262,000 in Nevada. Former Vice President Joe Biden also has spent more than $1 million in the early states, and also has the backing of a super PAC. Former South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg has a modest amount of ads coming up, but is also boosted by a major super PAC, VoteVets.

In recent days, despite the lack of airtime booked in Super Tuesday states, Warren and her senior staff have made clear that’s where they’re setting their sights.

"The fight we’re in, the fight to save our democracy, is an uphill battle. But our campaign is built for the long haul. And we are just getting started," Warren said in her speech Tuesday night in Manchester, when she started by congratulating Sanders, Buttigieg and Klobuchar for their respective first-, second- and third-place finishes in New Hampshire.

Campaign manager Roger Lau communicated directly with staff and supporters Monday, assuring them that they have a plan for the path forward.

Just before Lau sent an email to supporters pushing internal campaign numbers that showed Warren was "poised to finish in the top two in over half of Super Tuesday states," as well as detailed lines of attack against each of the five front-runners, he sent an email to the campaign staff pledging to stay in the race.

"I know you have been getting a lot of questions about how we are thinking about our next steps coming out of Iowa and after the polls close in New Hampshire, and I think it will be helpful for your own conversations with others on behalf of the campaign," Lau told staff in the email, obtained by ABC News.

"As EW said on our all-hands call last week, she didn’t get into this race with the belief that this would be easy. None of us did, either. … Making real change in this country has never been easy -- but as EW often says, if you don’t fight, you can’t win," Lau wrote to staff, referring to Warren by her initials.

Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Elizabeth Warren appears at her New Hampshire primary night rally in Manchester, N.H., Feb. 11, 2020.
Brian Snyder/Reuters

Warren also jumped onto a call with supporters Tuesday night around 10 p.m., shortly after she gave her speech and finished taking selfies with supporters at her election night party. Warren was upbeat, according to one person on the call, and asked everyone on the call to unmute themselves and give a cheer to the New Hampshire team. The call was to reassure the campaign that they’re in it for the long haul, the person on the call said.

But the Warren campaign still has to get through two more early states before Super Tuesday, and polls do not show Warren leading in either of them.

Rival campaigns were quick to point out that the fight for the 14 Super Tuesday states will require a heavy infrastructure, which a campaign can only afford if they pull in money and enthusiasm with some victories.

The debates in Nevada and South Carolina in the next two weeks hold a lot of potential because of the boost Friday’s debate gave Klobuchar, according to Adam Green, who has worked with Warren and her team since 2012 as the co-founder of PCCC.

"Super Tuesday is the big kahuna. A big priority for all candidates is having momentum entering Super Tuesday and nothing will contribute to momentum more than good moments on the debate stage," Green said.

On the heels of Biden’s drop in support from African American voters in national polls, Green also pointed to the potential to pick up some of his supporters in racially diverse states like South Carolina and Nevada.

Last fall, Warren was the first in the crowded Democratic field to invest millions of dollars on television ads in the early states, months before her top-polling rivals took the ad battle to that level. With digital ad buys, the campaign had announced it would be spending eight figures on the airwaves and online.

The big early investments were made during the height of Warren’s fundraising prowess last fall. Her campaign brought in a whopping $24.6 million between July and September, topping Buttigieg and Biden, and closely following Sanders, who raked in $25.2 million.

In the last quarter of 2019, however, Warren trailed behind all three, bringing in just $21.3 million compared to top-fundraiser Sanders’ $34.4 million. Warren also showed the highest burn rate -- spending -- of 158% among the four top-tier candidates.

In the email to staff on Saturday, Lau said the campaign saw "the best debate-day fundraising to date" after Warren’s "strong performance" on the debate stage Friday, but how much she brings in throughout the competitive primary season remains to be seen.

Related Topics