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Former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, a Democratic candidate for president in 2020, unveils his campaign's gun control platform in Aurora on Dec. 5, 2019. (Jesse Paul, The Colorado Sun)

Democratic presidential candidates spent $9.4 million on nearly 32,000 TV ads in Colorado with a handful of contenders targeting the state just as Super Tuesday arrives.

The campaigns of Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren and Pete Buttigieg, a super PAC supporting Amy Klobuchar, and even President Donald Trump took to Colorado’s TV screens in the last month to influence voters ahead of the primary.

The Democratic candidates delivered messages attacking Trump and talking about their leadership strengths.

The nearly $2 million spent in the final weeks doesn’t compare to the spending of a single candidate over the past three-plus months. Democratic billionaire Michael Bloomberg bought $7.4 million in TV ads in Colorado, according to a new Colorado Sun analysis.

The crowded Democratic field helped the TV ad wars in Colorado far exceed their 2016 levels, and Bloomberg’s money sets new records.

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At the national level, Bloomberg’s spending made the 2020 Democratic primary the most expensive ever –– by the end of January. Democratic candidates spent more than $1.6 billion, OpenSecrets reported, with Bloomberg accounting for nearly half of the total. The former New York City mayor and business owner is spending his own money at a pace of $6 million a day, the most ever of any self-funding candidate. 

The Colorado spending is a drop in the bucket of the $617 million spent nationally on broadcast and cable TV ads in the presidential contest so far, according to the Wesleyan Media Project. 

Bloomberg’s Colorado spending helped make Denver the No. 15 ad market among Super Tuesday states, the Wesleyan Media Project found. “It’s more ad spending than we’ve seen in a full election cycle,” said Erika Franklin Fowler, co-director of the project, which examines TV ad spending tracked by Kantar/Campaign Media Analysis Group.

Former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, a Democratic candidate for president in 2020, unveils his campaign’s gun control platform in Aurora on Dec. 5, 2019. (Jesse Paul, The Colorado Sun)

Bloomberg accounts for most of that national TV ad spending at $377 million, followed by fellow billionaire Tom Steyer at nearly $145 million. Steyer dropped out of the presidential contest Saturday after a poor showing in South Carolina. His campaign has been absent from Colorado TV screens since late December, after airing about $35,000 worth of ads. 

The Colorado Sun analyzed political ad contracts filed through Friday by TV stations and the three largest cable ad sellers with the Federal Communications Commission.

Sanders, the independent U.S. senator from Vermont, is spending the second most on TV ads in Colorado, though at $741,000 it’s only about 10% of what Bloomberg bought. Sanders’ ads began Feb. 8.

MORE: Bernie Sanders boasts big lead in Colorado presidential primary as rivals struggle, new poll shows

The 2020 total from the Sanders campaign is considerably less than the $1.7 million he spent on TV ads in Colorado four years ago, when he won the 2016 Democratic caucuses. His opponent Hillary Clinton, the eventual Democratic nominee, spent about $900,000 in the state.

This year in Colorado, no other candidate has spent more than a million dollars. Warren, the U.S. senator from Massachusetts, purchased $567,000 worth of ads that began airing Feb. 20.

Kitchen Table Conversations, the super PAC supporting Klobuchar, the U.S. Senator from Minnesota, is spending $267,000 starting Feb. 24. Former South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg bought $264,000 in TV advertising starting Wednesday. He exited the race Sunday.

And the Trump campaign began airing about $125,000 worth of TV commercials starting Thursday.

“Lots of candidates, lots of advertising, and no one can escape,” said Franklin Fowler at the Wesleyan Media Project. “It’s been a while since we’ve had such a competitive primary. To be this far along in a presidential campaign and to still have so many contenders is part of the reason why I think the advertising may feel overwhelming, in addition to the Bloomberg spots.”

TV ads attack Trump, extol candidate virtues

The Trump campaign’s commercial is a 2-minute positive spot featuring footage from his Feb. 20 Colorado Springs rally. It started late last week and will air through Super Tuesday.

Trump features prominently in the commercials from the Democratic candidates, too. They are focusing their messages on attacking the president even as they tout their credentials. 

The Bloomberg campaign, which aired more than 24,000 ads in Colorado since Nov. 25, focuses on Trump, health care and leadership in his ads.

In the “Scary Truth,” a narrator tells viewers that “it’s easy to say, ‘Beat Trump,’ it’s going to be harder to do.” The ad calls the president “the biggest bully of all” and says Bloomberg is ready to take him on. 

MORE: Why we won’t know which Democratic presidential candidate won Colorado on Super Tuesday

Late last week, Bloomberg took aim at Trump’s handling of the coronavirus in an ad titled “Pandemic.” A narrator says: “Health experts warn America is unprepared. Managing a crisis is what Mike Bloomberg does.”

Sanders also attacks Trump as “the most corrupt President in history” in one of his ads airing in Colorado, and the senator says he’ll “make billionaires pay their fair share and provide better wages for workers.”

Buttigieg criticizes the president, saying in his TV ad that he’s running “to pick up the pieces of our divided nation and lead us toward real action to do something about health care to do something about climate change.”

Meanwhile, Kitchen Table Conversations is airing an ad supporting Klobuchar that mentions neither Trump nor her opponents. It features Minnesotans talking about the candidate’s effectiveness. “Amy Klobuchar gets real results and has real plans,” one woman says. “With Amy Klobuchar, there’s no such thing as a red state,” one man says.

The campaigns of Klobuchar and former Vice President Joe Biden did not air local TV ads in Colorado ahead of the primary vote, based on contracts filed through Friday. 

Presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren speaks to a crowd of over 4,000 people at the Fillmore Auditorium in Denver during a campaign rally Feb. 23, 2020. (Jesse Paul, The Colorado Sun)

On the other hand, Warren takes aim at Bloomberg in “Big Money Doesn’t Always Win,” one of at least two ads she’s airing in Colorado. “You’ve probably seen more ads for Michael Bloomberg than the rest of us running for president put together,” Warren says in the ad.

That’s true. The remaining candidates and their supporters have aired just over 7,000 ads on traditional and cable TV in Colorado, which is less than a third of Bloomberg’s total according to The Sun analysis.

Bloomberg is spending big in Colorado in other ways, too 

Bloomberg’s big spending TV advertising campaign is only part of his Colorado strategy. 

The billionaire spent nearly $1.5 million on Facebook ads between Nov. 30 and Feb. 28, according to the social medial company’s data. Bernie Sanders is the next highest spender at more than $233,000.

Bloomberg’s campaign also filled Coloradans’ mailboxes with fliers promoting the candidate. Full-page print ads ran in newspapers in small towns in southwestern Colorado. And on Friday night, a digital billboard at 16th and Arapahoe streets, paid for by the campaign, broadcast the classic Colorado insult “Trump skis in jeans.”

Seth Masket, a political scientist at University of Denver who leads the Center on American Politics, marveled at the Bloomberg campaign’s spending in the state.

“I’m getting a ton of mailers, and they’re nice mailers,” Masket said. “It’s like he is just spending indiscriminately, he’s buying everything.”

But Masket added, “It doesn’t seem to be paying off hugely in terms of polling numbers.”

The lone major poll in Colorado conducted last week shows Bloomberg in the middle of the pack and struggling to reach 15% statewide, the threshold needed to win delegates. Sanders leads the field with a double-digit advantage.

Sandra Fish

Special to The Colorado Sun Twitter: @fishnette