WASHINGTON — Bernie Sanders’s campaign plans to spend more than $30 million on TV advertising alone in the first four presidential nominating states and California, according to several people familiar with the strategy, a financial show of force that also suggests he needs to reach outside the traditional sphere of Democratic primary voters and caucusgoers for support.
Mr. Sanders, the senator from Vermont, has been on the air in Iowa since early October, when his campaign spent $1.3 million on television advertising, and has bought $1 million of TV time in New Hampshire beginning Thursday.
The campaign has so far largely flouted traditional politicking, wagering instead on robust on-the-ground organizing to bring new voters into the political process.
But in earmarking tens of millions of dollars for television advertising between now and Super Tuesday in early March, the campaign is following a more established and analog path to accomplish what it says is the same aim.
“He brings regular people into the process who are not currently participating,” said Jeff Weaver, a Sanders adviser, who is leading the TV-centric strategy. “You need to be reaching people in a nonpolitical space. To find people who are not going to caucus, you have to be in spaces where they are, and that’s on television.”
The campaign is producing its television ads in-house.
The advertising blitz comes as two of his main rivals, Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Mayor Pete Buttigieg of South Bend, Ind., have opened more field offices in Iowa than has Mr. Sanders. Instead, Mr. Sanders has built a network that allows supporters to connect with one another online, without going to a field office. These same people are more likely to see his message on television, aides said.
The campaign is also betting on a tactic that it used in 2016, known as distributed organizing, that relies heavily on a vast web of volunteers. The hope is that they will motivate other supporters, especially unlikely or first-time voters.
Claire Sandberg, the Sanders campaign’s national organizing director, said in an interview last month that her aim was to reach “all of the people who have given up on the political process and talking to them about what matters to them and then encouraging them to come out and vote.”
“We’re able to do that because we can reach a scale of voter contact that no other campaign can,” she added.
Mr. Sanders, who began his 2016 campaign relatively unknown outside of Vermont, spent more money on TV ads during that primary contest than any other candidate in either the Democratic or Republican race.
“There were states where we would move 10 points, 20 points in a two-week period,” Mr. Weaver said in an interview Wednesday, referring to Mr. Sanders’s standing in public opinion polls. “You would add TV and it would spike almost straight up.”
Because Mr. Sanders already has near-universal name recognition among Democrats, his campaign’s task in this primary is less about introducing him to voters than it is reminding those who backed him four years ago why they supported him.
The Sanders campaign had raised a total of $61.5 million — more than any Democratic rival — as of the end of September, the last time candidates were required to report fund-raising numbers. The campaign also said it had $33.7 million in cash on hand, giving it a substantial war chest heading into the crucial early primary season.
Doing well in the first four states is as important for generating momentum as it is for amassing delegates. That is particularly true for Mr. Sanders, whose surprisingly strong performances in 2016 against Hillary Clinton in Iowa and New Hampshire helped turn him into a real threat for the Democratic nomination. California and other states that vote on Super Tuesday, March 3, are rich with delegates that will determine the party’s presidential nominee.
A big TV buy could help Mr. Sanders with the demographics among which he is weakest: older voters who are the likeliest to be watching television without skipping the commercials.
“They’re doing very well with younger voters,” said Joe Trippi, a Democratic consultant who managed the Vermont governor Howard Dean’s insurgent 2004 presidential campaign. “He’s going to break out among older voters who are not with him, and that’s a TV audience.”
In recent weeks, Mr. Sanders’s campaign has been making it increasingly clear that it views Iowa as critical to his chances of winning the Democratic nomination. It has built up its state team and expanded its ground operation.
It has similarly tried to display strength in New Hampshire: Earlier this week, Shannon Jackson, the state director there, sent a memo to supporters saying the Sanders campaign was “in a strong position to win.” The campaign, according to the memo, now has 14 field offices and 90 staff members on the ground in the state.
Yet while much of Mr. Sanders’s 2016 appeal was predicated on his being the lone alternative to the establishment choice, Mrs. Clinton, in 2020 he is competing with a field of 16 remaining rivals. Only one, former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., has a plausible claim on widespread establishment support.
In Iowa, Mr. Sanders has largely opted out of the cattle-call events that have drawn most of the presidential field, forgoing opportunities to make his case to both undecided attendees and supporters of other candidates who might be persuaded to pick Mr. Sanders as a second choice. In Iowa’s caucuses, supporters of a candidate who fails to attain the 15 percent threshold for earning delegates may reassign themselves to another candidate.
Mr. Sanders bought no tickets last weekend to the Iowa Democratic Party’s Liberty and Justice Celebration, a huge annual political event in the state, nor did he take supporters to the Polk County Steak Fry in September. Both events drew more than 12,000 Democrats, and other campaigns used them as opportunities to demonstrate their organizational might and collect data on caucusgoers who could be persuaded to support their candidate.
Mr. Weaver, who despite giving up the title of campaign manager remains Mr. Sanders’s closest adviser — after the senator’s wife, Jane Sanders — said it was unlikely that many attendees of either event would back Mr. Sanders in the caucuses if they already supported a different candidate.
“A lot of campaigns spent a lot of time in Iowa organizing sign brigades to stand outside events — that’s a waste of an organizing event,” he said. “Most people who went to the dinner the other night were already persuaded one way or the other.”
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