MediaRadar Blog

Focus On: Montana Senate

Deep, dark-red Montana is one of the Republican party’s great hopes for flipping the Senate from Democrat control to their own this coming November.

Senator Jon Tester (D)—one of his party’s “blue dog” (read: moderate) incumbents—is currently in a de facto tie with his GOP challenger, Tim Sheehy. On January 1st, Tester enjoyed a four-point lead, so let’s take a look at the ad war that helped Sheehy close the gap.

Year to date, the Montana airwaves have seen $26.8M in TV ad spend. Democrats, even despite enjoying the benefits of incumbency in this race, cannot be accused of complacency. $8.2M of this spend comes from Dem PAC “Last Best Place” and the Jon Tester campaign spent the second most with $6.1M. 

Rounding out the top five sponsors in this race were Republican groups “One Nation” at $3.7M, “More Jobs, Less Government” at $2.5M, and the Tim Sheehy campaign at $1.5M. All in, Dem groups are accounting for 61% of the ad spend for this Montana Senate seat while Republicans make up 39%.

What are the Republican ads talking about? They’re hammering Tester on immigration concerns and attacking President Biden while supporting Donald Trump. What about the Democrats? In a marked departure from their focus on the overturning of Roe and healthcare issues, their messaging centers around concerns with China’s trade policies, their involvement in American agriculture, and their spying on American citizens—both on social media and in the skies above.

What does Vivvix CMAG project in TV ad spend from now until election day? It is obvious that the GOP is not relying on the partisan disposition of Big Sky Country and an unpopular President to take down their Dem rival. 

They intend to close the ad gap by spending approximately $59.4M in the future, just slightly outpacing the $58.7M in TV ad buys from the Democrats. As has been the trend in the Presidential race, Political Action Committees will be doing the heavy lifting this summer and fall, not the candidate’s campaigns.

Montana-based media with inventory to sell must choose between enjoying the ad dollars poured into their state and struggling to keep up with demand. In 2018, during Tester’s last re-election, only $4.3M was spent on TV ads from January 1st to the first week of June. 

The investment was $32.9M through election day. Looking back to the 2012 race, the disparity is even starker: $1.2M was spent through the beginning of June and $14.3M through election day. Combining what has already been spent in 2024, coupled with the reservations we have on file, Vivvix CMAG projects spending to exceed $140M in Montana DMAs for just this one Senate race.

Written by Geoffrey Pereira, Vivvix CMAG