By the numbers: Beruff’s vanishing act

by | Aug 8, 2016

Late Saturday evening, The Capitolist’s editor-at-large, Sarah Rumpf, broke the story that Carlos Beruff’s longshot campaign for the U.S. Senate had all but disappeared from television as the August primary date got closer. The story correctly asserted that Beruff’s self-funded campaign hadn’t broadcast an ad on television since August 2nd, a span of at least four days.

Mid-Sunday morning, Peter Schorsch of then broke the news that, no, Beruff didn’t actually “pull the plug” on his campaign, but in fact, Beruff was going back up on television as of August 6th. The ensuing Twitter debate about the accuracy of The Capitolist’s story did little to shine light on what is really happening in the closing weeks of the GOP primary.

The truth of the matter is that Carlos Beruff has, indeed, virtually vanished from Florida television screens, as even Schorsch concedes in his own story:

All of this said, we have to agree with Rumpf that something is up. Having watched several hours worth of Olympics coverage across several networks, there has been no sign of Beruff, who was omnipresent on cable TV during the month of July.

To back this up, we analyzed the media buys for July and August to better understand the radical shift that has occurred between Senator Marco Rubio and Beruff. The two campaigns have essentially swapped roles, with Rubio now leading the spending for August by $20,000 per day.

And depending on how you slice the numbers, the gap might be much worse for Beruff.

The most favorable case we can make in Beruff’s favor is that in August, he is spending an average of $15,000 less per day than he was in July:

Avg. Daily TV Spending 

Carlos Beruff$82,207$66,974-$15,233
Marco Rubio$15,348$86,647+71,299

Obviously, this is not the direction a winning campaign wants to be heading in the final weeks. Extrapolating those numbers out over the course of the full month would leave Beruff trailing Rubio in TV spending by over $600,000. It would also leave him well short of the $15 million the Tampa Bay Times reported he might spend in an oft-cited but unsourced story by Jeremy Wallace on June 21st:

The Manatee County land developer who has already spent more than $4 million of his own money told staff Monday night that he’s prepared to put in another $10 million to $15 million to win the Republican primary.

To live up to the unsourced hype that Beruff’s team sold to the Times, (which POLITICOThe Hill  and later repeated here, here, here, here and here in their respective coverage), Beruff would have to spend about $3 million every week until primary day.  He’s currently not even close.

But even that generous analysis presents a woefully inaccurate picture of what is really going on. That’s because a whopping 68% of Beruff’s TV ad spend for August happened in the first two days of the month, which was then followed by a three day gap of no spending whatsoever. As Rumpf reported, on August 3rd, his campaign went dark and didn’t buy a single TV ad on broadcast or cable.

Yes, that changed on Saturday, August 6th, when Beruff’s campaign posted a paltry, cable-only buy of $153,000 on statewide television, which is scheduled to carry him through August 12th. To put that number into perspective, Beruff spent more than five times as much in July in the Tampa TV market alone.

Beruff’s campaign spokesman, Chris Hartline, confirmed via email late Sunday that the ad buy data we analyzed “looked right.”

Further, it appears that Beruff’s massive spending in those first two days of August appear to be residual ad placements from his blistering, 1,000-points-per-week run in July. If we lump those first two days of August in with July (where it likely belongs), we get a much clearer picture of the direction of Beruff’s spending as we near the August 30th finish line (hint: waaaaay down):

Avg. Daily TV Spending 

July 1 – Aug. 2ndAugust 3-12
Carlos Beruff$87,045$15,300

If the Beruff campaign provides additional information, or makes some additional ad buys this week, we’ll cover it. Maybe he’ll prove us wrong with a monster television buy in the closing weeks. But based on the ad buy data available as of Sunday evening, confirmed via email by Beruff’s own campaign, The Capitolist stands by its original report that Carlos Beruff has (essentially) “pulled the plug.”

[Edited to reflect that Sarah’s original post went up before midnight on Saturday evening. – SER]

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