Democratic presidential hopefuls have poured hundreds of thousands of dollars into staff, advertising and travel ahead of Oklahoma’s March 3 primary.
But one candidate is clearly leading the pack in spending.
Billionaire businessman and former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg has spent more than a quarter million dollars – more than the rest of the Democratic filed combined – on efforts to win the state’s presidential primary. He has even bought more than 6,300 television spots.
With less than a week before Election Day, Federal Election Commission and Federal Communication Commission reports reviewed by Oklahoma Watch show the eight remaining Democratic candidates have spent at least $443,000 in the state.
Following Bloomberg, Vermont U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders has spent the second most with almost $81,000 in campaign expenditures. Minnesota U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar and Massachusetts U.S. Senator and Oklahoma native Elizabeth Warren are the only other candidates who have spent at least $45,000 in the state.
Because of reporting gaps, that amount only reflects a portion of what the candidates’ final spending will be.
That’s because the latest FEC campaign reports, which track spending on staff, travel, rent and other categories, only include expenditures through Jan. 31. Reports covering the final weeks of the campaign won’t be released until after the election.
Also, while candidates must report total spending on much of their outreach and advertising, including mailers and digital ads, they are not required to say how much was spent in each state.
But the spending reviewed offers a look into how the presidential hopefuls are approaching Oklahoma, one of 14 states that will see voting on March 3’s “Super Tuesday.”
Commercials, Staff Drive Most of Spending
Bloomberg, who entered the race late, will be on the presidential ballots for the first time this primary season when Oklahoma and the other Super Tuesday states vote.
The New York native, who Forbes estimates is worth $62.4 billion, is entirely self-funding his campaign and has put in more than $400 million so far.
Bloomberg has used some of that money to become a familiar face for anyone who watches TV regularly in Oklahoma.
FCC filings show Bloomberg has purchased more than 6,300 television spots on Oklahoma stations, costing him $186,235, as of February 26.
Klobuchar, Warren and Sanders are the only other candidate to buy ads over the airwaves. Klobuchar bought 362 spots, costing nearly $13,000, that will run until a couple days before Election Day.
Sanders and Warren, meanwhile, came in with their TV ad buys in the final week of the campaign. Sanders purchased 200 ads, costing him about $9,000, and Warren bought 276 spots at a cost of $15,000.
In addition, Kitchen Table Conversations, a super political action committee backing Klobuchar, announced Wednesday it is purchasing $30,640 worth of ads in Oklahoma markets for the final week of the campaign.
Bloomberg is also leading the candidates when it comes to paying staff in Oklahoma.
His campaign previously announced it is employing nearly two dozen paid staffers and operating three field offices in the state. The campaign’s FEC reports, released earlier this week, reveal for the first time just how much Bloomberg has been paying many of those staffers.
Fifteen Oklahomans received salaries, ranging from $9,145 to $1,690, from Bloomberg’s campaign during January – the first month his campaign spent money in the state.
Notable names include former state Rep. Cory Williams, D-Stillwater, who received $3,603 for his role as the campaign’s state chairman and current state Rep. Monroe Nichols, D-Tulsa, who was paid $8,033 as a senior advisor.
Nichols, who earns $38,400 a year plus a per diem each year as a lawmakers, did not respond to a request for comment on specifics on his campaign role.
Trying to Buy a Campaign Win?
Bloomberg’s aggressive spending in Oklahoma and across the country has drawn criticism from some rivals, who argue the billionaire is unjustly using his wealth to try to secure the nomination.
During a CNN town hall in Nevada earlier this month, Sanders called Bloomberg’s spending “obscene” and said Bloomberg doesn’t have “the right to buy this election.”
Sanders, who won Oklahoma’s Democratic primary in 2016 before he lost the nomination to Hillary Clinton, has raised the most in Oklahoma among all the candidates.
He has taken in $228,250 from Oklahoma donors since 2018, according to FEC filings that show activity up to Jan. 31. That is a substantial lead over his rivals, including Warren ($128,750 raised) Pete Buttigieg ($127,349), Biden ($78,634) and Klobuchar ($26,000). Bloomberg hasn’t been raising or soliciting funds other than using his personal wealth.
Sarah Gray, Bloomberg’s press secretary, said any assertion that Bloomberg is trying to buy a win is “disrespectful to the voters.”
“There’s no amount of money that can buy every vote in the United States,” she said. “At the end of the day, when (Bloomberg) is elected, it will be because Oklahomans have seen his message they appreciate what he has to say.”
Will the Efforts Pay Off?
But whether candidates’ time and money will translate into a win remains to be seen.
Thirty-seven of Oklahoma’s 42 delegates (a total of 4,765 Democratic delegates will decide the nomination) are up for grabs on Tuesday. Candidates will be awarded a proportional share of the delegates as long as they surpass the 15 percent viability threshold.
A recent SoonerPoll, which surveyed likely voters Feb. 17-21, found Biden in the lead with 21%, Bloomberg at 20% and Sanders at 13%.
Meanwhile an earlier poll from Cole Hargrave Snodgrass and Associates, conducted Feb. 10-13, had Bloomberg at 18%, Sanders at 17% and Biden at 11%. No other candidates topped 10% in either poll.
But much can change, especially with any influx of spending during the final days before the primary.
Campaigns that haven’t been big spenders here still think they can have a strong showing.
This includes Biden, who has lagged in spending and fundraising Oklahoma compared to some rivals.
Meira Bernstein, a Biden spokeswoman, said the campaign will be using volunteers and others to get the word out before Tuesday. She also pointed to endorsements, such as one announced Wednesday from state Rep. Ajay Pittman, D-Oklahoma City, as a sign of support in the state.
“Joe Biden has built a broad and diverse coalition in Oklahoma and across the country – the exact type of coalition that we know it will take to beat Donald Trump,” she said.
Like many other campaigns, Gray said expectations will be high for the Bloomberg camp as they go into Super Tuesday.
“For our team, it is first place or bust,” Gray said. “We’re not fighting this hard for a second, third or fourth place.”
This story was updated at 10:30 a.m. Thursday to include new ad spending from Sanders and Warren.
Correction: The story incorrectly stated the title for Sarah Gray and Cory Williams. Gray is Bloomberg’s press secretary for Oklahoma and Williams is Bloomberg’s state political director. Gray’s last name was also previously inaccurately listed.