Welcome to FWIW, ACRONYM’s weekly newsletter breaking down digital strategy and investments across the political spectrum. Each week, we look at how campaigns are – or aren’t – leveraging smart digital strategies to drive narratives and win elections.
For what it’s worth, some of it might surprise you.
Over the past few weeks, we’ve seen upstart Democratic challengers for the U.S. Senate catapulted into the national political spotlight as they launched their campaigns with slick videos, and raised a ton of cash.
In 2020, any successful Senate challenger will have to raise and invest heavily to build and engage an enormous audience online for both fundraising, organizing, and turning out the vote. With control of the U.S. Senate up for grabs next year, we took a look at key Senate races where Democratic challengers have started spending big online.
2020 by the numbers
Donald Trump’s campaign has now spent over $13.85 million on Facebook and Google advertising since the midterms. This week, he was running hundreds more ads around his campaign’s Latinos for Trump campaign – although many Spanish language ads were pushing traffic to an English-only website. 🤷♂️
On the Democratic side, Julián Castro was the biggest spender on Facebook and Google last week, continuing to seize the moment and capitalize on his much lauded debate performance. As a result, his campaign impressively announced this week they reached the 130,000 donor threshold for September’s debates.
We noticed that Bill de Blasio has stopped running Facebook ads and spent zero dollars on Facebook advertising for the past two weeks. He just spent $1,400 on Google ads last week. You okay Bill?
Eric Swalwell dropped out of the race this week, so we dropped him like its hot from our charts, only to be immediately replaced by Tom Steyer, who we anticipate will spend BIG online. He’s already spent around $25,000 on Facebook ads alone since launching his campaign two days ago.
And here are the top political ad spenders on Facebook + Google last week:
Deep Dive: Ditch Mitch
Over the past few weeks, we’ve seen upstart candidates like Mark Kelly in Arizona, Amy McGrath in Kentucky, and Sara Gideon in Maine catapult themselves into the national political spotlight as they launched their campaigns for the U.S. Senate.
Taking on an incumbent U.S. Senator is no small feat – and in 2020, any successful challenger will have to invest heavily to build and engage an enormous audience online for both fundraising, organizing, and turning out the vote. Control of the U.S. Senate is up for grabs next year, and without control, it’ll be much harder for Democratic President to accomplish their agenda. That’s why we decided to take a look at five key Senate races where Democratic challengers have started spending big and may determine control of the chamber.
Party Committee Spending on Facebook, past 90 days
In U.S. Senate races, the party committees and their “legally non-affiliated but sort of definitely affiliated” superPACs are enormous spenders on both TV and online advertising – in some cases, outspending the candidates themselves. So how much are the Republican and Democratic Senate Campaign arms investing online already?
In the past 90 days, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee has spent four times as much as the National Republican Senatorial Committee on Facebook advertising.
For many Democrats, there’s no bigger prize than defeating Susan Collins. Well, by the looks of it, Collins hasn’t even begun advertising yet, spending just $650 on Facebook ads last quarter. Meanwhile, her strongest challenger so far, Sara Gideon, has spent a mindblowing 🤯 $203,447 on the platform since launching her campaign less than three weeks ago. Here’s their comparative spend on the platform in the past 90 days:
For context, Sara Gideon in one month has already spent half of what Democratic candidate Phil Bredesen spent ($450k) on Facebook in his entire competitive race in Tennessee last year. It’s going to be an expensive race. Gideon’s currently running dozens of ads focused on building her base of support, pushing messages in favor of protecting abortion rights and denouncing Brett Kavanaugh’s place on the Supreme Court – a major contrast to Collins, who if you weren’t aware, voted for him:
In Arizona, Captain Mark Kelly is mounting a serious challenge to Sen. Martha McSally. His campaign raised $4.2 million in the last quarter, and his campaign is wisely investing early in online advertising to build an army of grassroots donors and supporters – and head off a competitive primary. Kelly has already spent $389,319 on nearly 8,000 Facebook ads since launching in February. Here’s their comparative spend on the platform in the past 90 days:
Most of his ads focus on rejecting corporate PAC money and highlighting his record as an Astronaut and Navy Captain…and his ads haven’t even mentioned Martha McSally yet:
In South Carolina next year, Lindsey Graham is going to find out if all that sucking up to the President paid off. His main Democratic opponent, Jaime Harrison raised over $1.5 million since launching his campaign last month and is heavily outspending Graham on Facebook advertising in the past 90 days:
Harrison’s ads are pretty conventional, but Lindsey Graham is running a bunch of ads trying to play the victim card and energize his base to defend him:
In Colorado, fmr. Ambassador Dan Baer is investing heavily on digital advertising to beat out his rivals for the Democratic nomination, and he’s far ahead of Cory Gardner’s initial campaign investment. The Colorado Senate seat is seen by many as the Democrats’ number one pickup opportunity – and the primary is crowded and competitive. Here’s their comparative spend on Facebook in the past 90 days:
Baer’s ads feature a lot of platform-specific video where he addresses supporters directly and explains the need for Democrats to take back the Senate and oust Mitch McConnell:
Cory Gardner’s initial campaign ads are a stark contrast to the moderate persona he’s tried to sell to Colorado voters over the years. His ads are clearly meant to rile up his ultra-conservative base to prepare them for a long election cycle.
No matter who the challenger is, it’s always an uphill battle to defeat the sitting Senate Majority Leader. But, in the two days since launching her campaign, fighter pilot Amy McGrath announced she had raised a record $2.5 million online, and she’s already spent more on Facebook advertising than Mitch McConnell spent in the entire past quarter:
McGrath invested heavily in digital advertising in her recent run for Congress, and is showing she’s planning on reaching voters online once again in this race. Mitch has record low favorability in Kentucky, so it’s no surprise nearly all of McGrath’s ads mention him:
In other key states:
And in North Carolina, Texas, and Georgia, the Democratic challengers are also outspending Republican incumbents online. There’s one main exception in Michigan, where Trump-backed Republican John James is currently outspending Sen. Gary Peters. Someone please call Gary and let him know.
All of these candidates current spending levels are a tiny drop in the bucket compared to what will be spent next year. However, most of the major Democratic Senate challengers are off to a strong start in launching their campaigns and investing in building support they’ll need in the coming months. Some candidates, like Sara Gideon and Mark Kelly, are spending an unprecedented sum early in their race, both discouraging potential primary challengers from entering the race, and foreshadowing major digital ad investments next year. 🏻 It’s going to be a long, expensive 16 months.
One more thing… 🤳
That’s all for this week. But before you go, we want to make one ask of you – if you love FWIW, follow us on Twitter. There you’ll find additional insights as we dig through research throughout the week.