- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 14, 2016

DES MOINES, Iowa — The TV ad wars have heated up here among Republicans battling for a third- or fourth-place ticket out of the presidential caucuses, with Sen. Marco Rubio and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush dominating airtime.

Mr. Rubio blanketed the Hawkeye State with ads showcasing his faith, his family and his leadership on national security and foreign policy, as the Florida senator hangs on to a third-place spot in the polls.

Mr. Bush and his super PAC unleashed a barrage of attack ads targeting Mr. Rubio for flip-flopping and missing Senate votes, part of a desperate strategy to kneecap Mr. Rubio in hopes of breaking out of single digits and a fifth-place finish in most Iowa polls.

The two Floridians also are jockeying for the mainstream Republican lane in the race, hopping to emerge as the establishment alternative to front-runners Donald Trump and Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas.

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who also is angling for the mainstream lane, joined Iowa’s battle on the airwaves Thursday with his first TV spot in the state.

In the ad, Mr. Christie touts his record prosecuting terrorists as U.S. attorney for New Jersey and warns that Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton, if elected, will be President Obama’s third term.

“She was one of the architects of this foreign policy,” he says. “We need to send a clear and strong message to our adversaries that there are clear limits to your conduct and if you violate those limits, America’s going to hold you to account.

“As president, that would be the top priority: To protect the lives of the people of the United States of America,” he says as a montage of faces — an elderly white man, a young white woman, a young Hispanic man, a young black woman and a white baby — flashes across the screen.

For Mr. Rubio and Mr. Bush, keeping their TV ads in heavy rotation so far has produced negligible results moving poll numbers.

Talk to just about any Iowan and they’ll tell you that they are inundated with political commercials on television, but they’ll also claim the slick advertising doesn’t sway them.

“I see a Jeb Bush commercial and I don’t even pay attention to it. We’ve had enough Bush in the White House,” said James Moulton, 43, owner of Central Iowa Vapors in Ankeny, about 15 miles north of Des Moines.

Mr. Moulton said he planned to caucus for Mr. Trump or Mr. Cruz. He added that he had a better impression of Mr. Rubio from the TV ads but not enough to lure him away from the front-runners.

Retired IT professional Tom Gay said he planned to back either Mr. Rubio or Mr. Bush in the caucus, but the ads wouldn’t inform his decision.

“I don’t listen to political ads on radio or television. I have a tendency to change the channel,” said Mr. Gay, 66. “They are kind of wasting their money on me.”

A Real Clear Politics average of recent polls show Mr. Trump and Mr. Cruz in a dead heat in Iowa, with Mr. Trump barely edging out his rival 27 percent to 26 percent. And Mr. Rubio comes in a distant second at 11 percent.

Behind them are retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson at 9 percent and Mr. Bush and Mr. Christie both at 4 percent. The others finish in low single digits, according to the poll average.

Mr. Rubio and his super PACs are prepared to dominate Iowa’s TV airwaves by spending $5.1 million for 7,000 ads scheduled to run this month as the campaigns sprint to the state’s leadoff caucuses Feb. 1.

Those ads account for more than one-third of the total 17,000 political ads slated to flood the airwaves here this month, according to an analysis by the Des Moines Register.

Mr. Rubio and his allies also are spending more than half of their total advertising budget for Iowa in the final month, according to the newspaper.

He spent the most of any candidate for the duration of the race in Iowa, with his campaign and super PACs doling out more than $9.8 million for more than 12,700 TV spots.

Mr. Bush had the second highest total for TV ads from the start of the campaign through Feb. 1. He and his super PACs spent more than $8.4 million for 8,950 spots.

Mr. Carson has spent the third highest total of current GOP candidates. But he has struggled to resurge after briefing leading the race in October and then slipping into the middle of the field.

He has spent $1.9 million for 5,951 TV spots.

By comparison, the front-runners have shelled out the least. Mr. Cruz and his super PACs spent just $484,755 for just over 1,000 TV spots during the Iowa race.

Mr. Trump, who is self-financing his run, last month said he would spend $1.1 million a week to run ads in Iowa during the final eight weeks before the caucuses.

Still, Rubio campaign officials said that concentrating on TV advertising was paying off.

“Our campaign is about Marco and his message and the goal is to get his message in front of as many Iowans as possible,” said Jordan Russell, Iowa spokesman for the Rubio campaign.

“It is effective,” he said. “I think Marco’s momentum is building here.”

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