Negative, Defensive and Dark: The Final Ads of the Iowa Campaign

Subzero temperatures and swirling snow squalls have hampered campaign events around Iowa this weekend, but Iowans are getting plenty of exposure to the Republican presidential candidates through a last-minute blitz of advertising before Monday’s caucuses.

The parting messages from the candidates — in their ads as in their speeches — have been notably negative, defensive and dark.

Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida and Nikki Haley, the former governor of South Carolina, are locked in a battle for second place in Iowa, and their camps have unleashed fresh attacks on each other in the waning days of the race here. In a dynamic that mirrors the race overall, their ads have dealt only glancing blows to former President Donald J. Trump, while Mr. Trump’s final ad looks past his primary rivals and seeks to undermine President Biden.

A super PAC backing Ms. Haley put out a new ad on broadcast television stations Friday that depicts Mr. DeSantis as a “suck up” to Mr. Trump — featuring old photos of them together, along with clips from a 2018 DeSantis campaign ad in which Mr. DeSantis recites Mr. Trump’s slogans to his children. In the new ad, an unseen crowd chants, “Who’s your daddy?”

An ad from a super PAC supporting Mr. DeSantis picks up on remarks Ms. Haley made this month to a crowd in New Hampshire — where she has drawn strong support — saying voters there would “correct” the Iowa results in their primary on Jan. 23.

“Nikki doesn’t respect you,” the ad says. “She thinks New England knows better.” (An ad out from Mr. DeSantis’s campaign also seized on her New Hampshire remarks, in a bid to undermine her to Iowa voters.)

In another ad, the super PAC calls her “Tricky Nikki Haley,” and accuses her of supporting “the radical trans agenda.” The ad, rather tepidly, adds: “Mr. Trump is no better.”

Another super PAC for Mr. DeSantis — he has been backed by $33.2 million in ad support in Iowa — has been running an ad saying “the left is destroying our country,” saying Mr. DeSantis is the only leader who has “fought them and won.”

The only candidate with more television advertising money helping her is Ms. Haley, with $35.5 million in Iowa alone, according to an analysis by AdImpact, a media-tracking firm. This is particularly remarkable, considering that the main super PAC backing her did not start advertising in Iowa until Aug. 1, and her campaign didn’t begin spending on TV ads in Iowa until November.

Her campaign’s last major ad in Iowa is among the few generally positive messages on the air these days, urging viewers to “imagine a president with grit and grace, a different style, not a name from the past,” over upbeat music.

A final ad by Mr. Trump’s campaign in Iowa is focused on attacking President Biden over the economy, a message that appears to resonate with many of his supporters in Iowa. He has, however, spent time and money attacking Ms. Haley and Mr. DeSantis — including in an ad that ran as recently as last week that is almost entirely made up of old clips of Mr. DeSantis praising him.

Iowa television stations have been among the biggest beneficiaries of the flood of spending in the state in recent months. Advertising rates — the cost to buy airtime on television — have increased as the caucuses draw near.

KCCI, the CBS affiliate station in Des Moines, has booked $11.7 million in ad time since January 2023, according to AdImpact. KWWL, the NBC affiliate in eastern Iowa, has booked $9.6 million; KTIV, the NBC affiliate in western Iowa, has booked $7.1 million.

Vivek Ramaswamy, the wealthy entrepreneur sitting in fourth place in the polls, has campaigned aggressively in Iowa, backed by $4 million in ads here. At the end of December, he said he would no longer place television ads, relying instead on digital and radio spots. One final ad that ran this week features an endorsement from Steve King, the former U.S. representative from Iowa who became a Republican Party pariah for his history of racist comments.

The campaign for one long-shot candidate, Ryan Binkley, has a final plea to voters on television showing footage of a speech in which Mr. Binkley, a businessman and pastor, says: “We started in 15th place. We made it past the vice president, a governor, a couple billionaires, a senator, a congressman, a mayor of a large city — the field’s getting narrow.”

“I’m still here, Iowa,” he shouts. “I’m still here!”



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