Money is gushing into New Hampshire as presidential candidates see the first primary as a make-or-break moment.

About US$100 million ($150 million) has already been poured into broadcast and cable television ads courting voters for next Wednesday's vote, according to estimates from Kantar Media's CMAG and an analysis by Ken Goldstein, a Bloomberg politics analyst and University of San Francisco professor.

In comparison, about US$2 million ($3 million) had been spent in New Hampshire by this point in the 2012 race.

The spending in New Hampshire shows how American politics is being transformed by US Supreme Court decisions in recent years that cleared the path for unbridled spending in elections. The sheer number of candidates and the lack of an incumbent has also intensified the flow of money. The surge also comes from rising prices. While federal election laws guarantee low advertising prices for campaigns, outside groups like super-PACs have to pay a market rate. For the same spot, super-PACs have been known to fork out as much as seven times more than a candidate's official campaign committee.


So far, the vast majority of New Hampshire ad spending - about 80 per cent as of February 2 - has come from the Republican candidates and outside groups supporting them. Even Donald Trump, who rode a wave of free publicity through the early months of his campaign, began TV advertising in early January.

CMAG estimates that US$82 million was spent to February 2 on broadcast ads in four TV markets that cover New Hampshire. On top of that, Goldstein estimates another US$20 million has been spent on local cable channels, which aren't tracked by CMAG. Of the broadcast ads, Republicans and their super-PACs account for US$64 million.

"New Hampshire has become the O.K. Corral for the establishment candidates," said Anthony Corrado, a professor at Colby College. "(Jeb) Bush, (John) Kasich, (Chris) Christie are going to devote whatever resources they can to the state, because if they don't do well in New Hampshire, they no longer have a viable path to the nomination."

Yesterday Rick Santorum followed Rand Paul, Mike Huckabee and Martin O'Malley in dropping out.

In 2012, neither Mitt Romney nor Barack Obama faced stiff competition in New England within their own parties, so a major ad war never ensued. This year, the Republican field is crowded with well-funded candidates backed by deep-pocketed super-PACs. Rubio, who came third in Iowa, needs to maintain momentum to become the establishment candidate of choice, while Bush wants to edge out Rubio, as well as Christie and Kasich.

After his defeat in Iowa, Trump appears to be taking little for granted in New Hampshire, where he leads the most recent voter surveys by an average of 22 percentage points, according to "It's a must-win state for Trump," said Lara Brown of George Washington University. "He doesn't have the ground game and he doesn't have the organisation, so at this late time, the only thing you can do is saturate the airwaves."

- Washington Post - Bloomberg