Just as fast as Chris Christie rose in New Hampshire presidential polls, one Republican opponent’s super PAC cavalry is attempting to knock the New Jersey governor’s popularity back down.
A pair of Conservative Solutions PAC ads, which are airing this week in New Hampshire and surrounding markets, avoid criticizing frontrunner Donald Trump, but instead question Christie’s conservative record. One ad asserts that Christie “could well be Obama’s favorite Republican.”
Conservative Solutions PAC exists for one purpose: supporting Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Florida.
Christie’s official campaign responded on Wednesday with its own ad in which Christie says Republicans have “the moral duty to work together.”
Christie, however, wasn’t particularly high on Rubio when asked by Bloomberg’s “With All Due Respect” program about Conservative Solutions PAC’s ad blitz.
Christie, whose own absence from New Jersey has been noticed, added that he “works every day for the people of New Jersey as governor.”
Christie is just two points behind Rubio in the Granite State, according to Real Clear Politics’ most recent aggregation of New Hampshire polls.
The ad’s sponsor
Conservative Solutions PAC hasn’t spent nearly as much money on TV ads as Right to Rise USA, the super PAC behemoth supporting Republican Jeb Bush — easily the top ad sponsor in the presidential primary.
But since December, Conservative Solutions PAC has ramped up its ad spending, airing ads in key presidential primary and caucus states such as Iowa, South Carolina and New Hampshire.
Conservative Solutions PAC, just like all super PACs, may raise and spend as much money as it sees fit — a boon to wealthy donors who may only give $2,700 per election to candidates’ own campaigns.
While Conservative Solutions PAC must disclose its donors, its sister “social welfare” nonprofit — Conservative Solutions Project — does not, meaning the nonprofit’s donors are unknown.
The Conservative Solutions duo is responsible for more than half of all pro-Rubio ads to date, including ones sponsored by Rubio’s own campaign committee.
In December and January so far, the Rubio super PAC aired more than 2,600 TV ads — or one ad aired every 20 minutes. Its sister nonprofit has aired nearly 5,000 ads overall.
Together, these two pro-Rubio groups account for 12 percent of all TV ads aired in the Republican primary race, according to a Center for Public Integrity analysis of data from media tracking firm Kantar Media/CMAG.
Kantar Media/CMAG monitors television ads that run on local broadcast TV in all 211 media markets, as well as national network and national cable TV. It does not monitor local cable stations or track digital advertising.
Who’s behind it?
Several well-known Republican operatives who run the pro-Rubio Conservative Solutions PAC once worked for the presidential campaigns of George H.W. Bush or George W. Bush. This time, though, they’re forsaking the Bush family by not supporting Jeb Bush.
One of the leaders of Conservative Solutions PAC is J. Warren Tompkins, who has worked on Bush campaigns since the 1980s. He is currently a partner at consulting firm First Tuesday Strategies.
Leading the Conservative Solutions PAC’s ad strategy is Chris Mottola, a well-established ad operative who was initially expected to be pro-Jeb Bush.
Rounding out Bush alums is Jeff Sadosky, who is Conservative Solutions PAC’s communications strategist. Sadosky worked for George W. Bush’s 2004 reelection campaign.
Through June, Conservative Solutions PAC raised $31.9 million.
But since, that number has likely surged, as this fundraising figure from the Federal Election Commission came in months before billionaire Paul Singer endorsed Rubio. (Most super PACs aren’t required to detail their donors during late 2015 until later this month.)
Conservative Solutions PAC’s known bankrollers include several big names. Among them: billionaire Floridian Norman Braman, whose donated $5 million over time through June. Braman owns the largest car dealership in Florida.
The top single donation — $2.5 million — comes from Besilu Stables LLC., which is owned by Florida healthcare businessman Benjamin Leon.
Other companies donated six-figure amounts as well, including one of the nation’s largest for-profit private prison companies, GEO Group, Inc. It gave the super PAC $100,000.
Florida Crystals Corp., a sugar company, also donated $100,000. Florida Crystals Corp. is owned by the Fangul brothers — like Rubio, Cuban-Americans — who head a sugar conglomerate comprised of subsidiaries such as Domino Sugar.
The ad frenzy cost the pro-Rubio super PAC an estimated $1 million in production and placement costs, with ads airing in New England television markets. The ads come after Christie’s newfound success in New Hampshire — a key state in the presidential primary contest.
Conservative Solutions PAC was hoarding the contents of its war chest until a couple of months ago. But no longer: The group aired its first ad in December, according to data from ad tracking firm Kantar Media/CMAG.
Why to watch this group
In a race where seven out of 10 ads in the Republican presidential primary are sponsored by outside groups such as super PACs, the pro-Rubio group has become a significant player, evident by notable ad buys in December and January.
And as primary season nears, viewers in key states can expect to see more negative ads.
Up until recent months, candidates’ super PAC ads have been overwhelmingly positive, touting the character and policies of the Republicans candidates they support.
Now though, this trend has begun to reverse.
The pro-Bush Right to Rise USA also spent $1 million late last month in negative ads attacking Rubio, Christie and Kasich. In the first four days of this month, 25 percent of presidential race-related ads aired were either negative or of a mixed tone, according to Kantar Media/CMAG.
This story was co-published with Al Jazeera America.
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