More than $31 million worth of political ads poured into Utah during the 2020 election. That astonishing number includes the Democratic presidential primary, the hotly contested Republican primary for governor, and the general election.
Final numbers provided to The Salt Lake Tribune by the ad tracking firm Advertising Analytics shows the bulk of that money, $17.4 million, was spent on advertising in the toss-up 4th Congressional District matchup between Rep. Ben McAdams and Republican Burgess Owens. That was the vast majority of the total spending on ads in Utah following the June primary and the November general election.
McAdams and Owens combined for just under $5.3 million in spending on political ads across television, cable, radio and digital platforms. Outside groups pumped in another $12 million, including $3.4 million from the Republican super PAC Congressional Leadership Fund and the Democratic House Majority PAC. Those two groups are tied to House Minority Leader Rep. Kevin McCarthy and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
Moving Utah’s presidential primary to “Super Tuesday” in early March paid off in spades for media outlets in the state. Democratic presidential candidate Michael Bloomberg spent $5.2 million on advertising in Utah, but came away with only three delegates. Bernie Sanders, who won the Utah primary, spent just $193,000, while Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s total was a little over $330,000.
Joe Biden, who ended up winning the Democratic nomination and appears to be on his way to the White House, spent $120,000 in Utah during the primary but just $2,000 ahead of the November general election. President Donald Trump’s campaign tallied just $129,000 in spending in the state. The lion’s share of spending in the gubernatorial race came ahead of the June GOP primary. Eight Republican candidates dropped $3.7 million on ads in the effort to secure the party nomination. Provos businessman Jeff Burningham spent $717,000 on his unsuccessful bid, while former Gov. Jon Huntsman’s total was north of $1.2 million.
Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox’s pre-primary advertising spend was approximately $780,000. After he secured the nomination and became the overwhelming favorite to win, that total dropped to just $160,000. Overall, Cox’s bill for political ads was $938,000. Democrat Chris Peterson, Cox’s general election opponent, only spent $12,000.
Most of the other races in Utah saw just modest spending on advertising this year. Attorney General Sean Reyes dropped $200,000 on ads to secure another term in office, with three-fourths of that coming ahead of his June primary election against Utah County Attorney David Leavitt. Republican Blake Moore dropped $180,000 to help him win the GOP primary in the 1st Congressional District to replace Rep. Rob Bishop. Moore’s campaign spent just $2,000 on the general election, which he won handily.
Republican Rep. John Curtis outspent his Democratic opponent Devin Thorpe by more than 12 to 1, tallying $163,000 on his way to another term in Congress. Rep. Chris Stewart only had to put $29,000 toward advertising to secure a fifth term in Washington.
There were some curious expenditures in Utah during the 2020 election season. Sen. Mike Lee dropped about $50,000 on advertising, but that was a mostly digital spend to fundraise ahead of his 2022 reelection bid.
The anti-Trump group Republicans for the Rule of Law spent more than $600,000 on ads in the state during the president’s impeachment trial. Targeted at Sen. Mitt Romney, the group first tried to pressure him into voting to allow the calling of witnesses, which he did, and then to thanked Romney for his vote to remove Trump from office for abusing his power. Romney was the only Republican to vote to remove in the trial.