With less than two weeks until Election Day, Donald Trump is finally spending more on TV ads than Hillary Clinton, belatedly cutting into what has been a gigantic edge for Democrats throughout the campaign.
Mr. Trump spent $14.4 million in the week from Oct. 18 through Monday, topping the $13.9 million spent by Mrs. Clinton’s campaign. During the closing stretch, Mr. Trump is projected to spend $30.6 million to Mrs. Clinton’s $22.2 million, according to Kantar Media/CMAG data analyzed by Bloomberg Politics.
The Republican presidential nominee boosted his ad spending in Florida, Pennsylvania and North Carolina, and went back on the air in Virginia after a five-week absence in a state that had appeared to have slipped from his grasp.
Mr. Trump frequently wonders aloud why he doesn’t get more credit for hanging tough in the polls while spending far less than Mrs. Clinton. He says the country needs more thinking like that.
But he has also signaled that he plans to put even more of his considerable fortune into his campaign during the closing stretch.
“I will be over $100 million, and it could be much more than that,” he told ABC News this week, saying the total already stands at about $61 million.
Even then, he would have a long way to go to catch up with Mrs. Clinton, who has outraised and outspent Mr. Trump throughout. Her campaign has invested $173 million on TV ads, dwarfing Mr. Trump’s $58.4 million.
“Had he put in a couple hundred million dollars early on, bought the time necessary and had a full advertising plan in the target states, this might be a very different election,” said Charlie Spies, who worked on the Jeb Bush Right to Rise super PAC. “But he’s refused to do it.”
Mrs. Clinton is still spending money in Arizona and made buys in Texas last week — both traditionally Republican states where polls are surprisingly close and Democrats hope to score an upset.
She also bought advertising to try to battle Mr. Trump in Maine’s 2nd Congressional District, where polling has shown the Republican nominee has a shot at its one Electoral College vote in a state Mrs. Clinton is likely to win overall. In a mirror-image scenario, Mrs. Clinton is also advertising in Nebraska to try to win the Electoral College vote of the 2nd Congressional District, a more liberal enclave in a conservative state.
But with the airwaves already saturated and early voting under way in many battleground states, it’s unclear how much any late spending blitz would move the needle.
Mr. Spies said it’s possible for Mr. Trump to make a dent, even at this late stage.
“If he was running a disciplined closing two weeks of the campaign with himself and surrogates on message talking about change in Washington and fighting the corrupt system, with $25 million of advertisements … that could actually be very effective,” he said. “But they’ve shown no ability to do that.”
Democrats also have cash to spread around, particularly when outside allies’ efforts are included.
Priorities USA Action, the main Clinton super PAC, announced this week that it has raised about $175 million for the cycle, including $18 million from Oct. 1-19, and it started the closing stretch of the campaign with about $15.1 million on hand.
The group released an ad Thursday that is a compilation of some of Mr. Trump’s past remarks, such as his declaration that he alone can fix the country’s problems, and his reference to Mrs. Clinton at the third presidential debate as a “nasty woman.”
“Donald Trump is far too divisive and dangerous to ever be president of the United States, and his campaign of sexism, misogyny, racism and cruelty has dragged this country through the mud for long enough,” said Guy Cecil, the group’s chief strategist.
The group said the ad will air in Ohio, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, Florida, Nevada, Iowa, New Hampshire, and Georgia through to the election.
Meanwhile, Great America PAC, one of the main pro-Trump groups, on Thursday touted a $3.5 million independent expenditure effort that includes TV, radio and digital ads, as well as a bus tour through Nevada, Colorado, Ohio, Pennsylvania, North Carolina and Florida.
The group said it has raised and spent more than $20 million to support Mr. Trump.
“From the beginning, we built Great America PAC to be a full-service independent committee that engages new voters in multiple ways including TV, radio and digital ads as well as an unprecedented ground operation, which is acting as a force multiplier to [get out the vote] efforts of the RNC and Trump campaign,” said Ed Rollins, lead strategist for the group.
Mr. Trump has sent mixed signals on super PACs supporting his candidacy and disavowed the group months ago while he was still competing for the Republican presidential nomination.
Despite the efforts on both sides, the Bloomberg analysis found that overall TV ad spending this cycle is down from 2012. All told, about $450 million has been spent on general election TV ads, less than half of the amount four years ago.
Looking at just the campaigns alone, Mr. Trump and Mrs. Clinton had combined to spend about $231 million, compared with about $360 million combined from President Obama and Republican nominee Mitt Romney over the same time period in 2012.