Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders has spent twice as much on Nevada television ads as opponent Hillary Clinton.
Sanders has spent $2.93 million, while Clinton has paid $1.46 million for campaign ads as of Thursday, according to data filed with the Federal Communications Commission.
They’re the two heaviest spenders of both parties as Nevada voters get ready to participate in upcoming caucuses. Democrats will caucus on Feb. 20, Republicans on Feb. 23.
The spending is an indicator of how important Nevada is in the nomination battle between Sanders and Clinton.
Nevada is the third early voting state for the Democratic candidates. Clinton narrowly won the Iowa caucuses, while Sanders scored a win in New Hampshire. Sanders’ ad buy covers 7,008 spots in Las Vegas and Reno markets, while Clinton’s covers 4,289 spots.
“The surprise part is it shows how much money he has,” said Eric Herzik, chairman of the political science department at the University of Nevada, Reno. “He can stand toe-to-toe with her in terms of money.”
But Herzik also noted that Clinton has been in the state since April and has had more time to build a ground game in advance of the caucus. Sanders’ supporters will need to be self-motivated, he said.
Both camps are aggressively courting minority voters. They are using Spanish-language ads to reach Latino voters, stressing their support of immigration reform efforts.
For Republican presidential candidates, television ad spending in the state pales in comparison to what Sanders and Clinton are buying.
But the GOP field still faces one more early voting state to spend money in before the Feb. 23 Republican caucuses in Nevada. The South Carolina primary contest for Republicans is on Feb. 20.
The numbers reflect what’s already well-established: Billionaire businessman Donald Trump, who hasn’t spent any money on TV ads, is riding a wave of anti-establishment anger and getting media coverage that minimizes the need to buy spots. Trump won the New Hampshire primary last week.
Meanwhile, U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, who won the Iowa caucuses, has spent just $1,300 on two spots on Nevada television stations. A source close to the Cruz campaign said there are plans to air more ads in Nevada markets.
So far, the highest GOP buyer in Nevada television ad buys is U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida. Rubio’s campaign has paid $201,640 on 880 spots.
It’s another sign that his campaign is focusing heavily on Nevada. Rubio touts his humble Las Vegas ties on the campaign trail. He spent part of his childhood in Las Vegas, where his father worked as a bartender and his mother as a maid.
Retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson is the second-highest spender: $163,240 on 643 spots that aired in the state last year.
But the campaign isn’t planning any television ads in the days leading up to the caucuses.
Jimmy Stracner, Nevada state director for Carson, said the campaign’s efforts will focus on doing a “heavy social media campaign” that makes use of mail and radio without television.
“Being that this is a caucus, we are using our resources to organize the many supporters of Dr. Carson in Nevada,” he said in an email.
Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush hasn’t put money into Nevada TV ads yet.
Bush campaign spokeswoman Emily Benavides stressed that the operation’s ground game has been focused on reaching voters.
“We’ve had a really great presence in the state since the governor announced his candidacy for president,” she said, adding they’ve placed a high priority on knocking on doors and talking directly to people. The campaign now has more than 20 paid staffers in Nevada, and that figure will increase leading up to Feb. 23, she said.
Overall, the numbers are a “little low,” Herzik said.
“Nevada’s not getting much love from these Republican candidates,” he said.
The caveat is that large ad buys can change the dynamic quickly, and there’s more than a week to go before the caucus.
Outside groups are starting to pour money into the races, and most of the spending so far has been in the Reno area.
The biggest spender in the state so far is Conservative Solutions PAC, which has put $128,355 toward Reno TV spots supporting Rubio.
The super PAC, based in Tampa, Florida, raised $30.4 million last year, and isn’t affiliated with the campaign.
Keep the Promise I, a super PAC that backs Cruz, has spent $41,450 on 56 spots with a Reno television station.
Review-Journal Database Editor Adelaide Chen contributed to this report. Contact Ben Botkin at email@example.com or 702-387-2904. Find him on Twitter: @BenBotkin1