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.
The Iowa State Fair officially kicked off this week in all its butter-sculpted and deep fried glory. To mark the occasion, we’ve partnered with Pat Rynard at the Iowa Starting Line (who’s currently hitchhiking across the state with candidates!) for a super special Iowa edition of FWIW! Pat will walk us through who’s working the hardest to win Iowa – giving a local political insider’s analysis of on-the-ground staffing, events, and organizing, and we’ll share how that syncs up with candidates’ online strategies for winning the first caucus in nation.
2020 by the numbers
Donald Trump’s re-election campaign has now spent around $16 million on Facebook and Google advertising since November. See these charts and more at our FWIW Dashboard.
Kirsten Gillibrand’s campaign has outspent that of Bernie Sanders and Kamala Harris online, despite trailing them significantly in the polls. She’s trying hard to raise enough from small dollar donors to make the next round of debates.
…and here are the top political ad spenders on Facebook and Google from July 28th – August 3rd.
Deep Dive: Who’s Winning Iowa
FWIW TAKEOVER Greetings from Iowa! I’m Pat Rynard, the founder and managing editor of Iowa Starting Line, the largest independent news site in Iowa. I worked on Democratic campaigns in Iowa for about a decade, then launched my site in 2015 to give people a look at what’s really happening behind the scenes in Iowa politics. We recently expanded to five full-time political reporters, rivaling most established news outlets in the state.
Despite what you may have heard earlier this year, the Iowa Caucus is still going to be pivotal in the Democratic primary. If you don’t believe me, just look at the charts below of the time and resources the candidates are devoting here. They know you need an early state win or good showing to stay in contention through Super Tuesday, and Iowa is the great equalizer for any candidate willing to show up and build a grassroots campaign here.
Let’s do a by-the-numbers analysis of candidate activity in Iowa.
Influencer outreach 🤳
What’s an endorsement really worth in the Iowa Caucus? Anyone who’s worked on campaigns knows that sometimes a well-connected precinct captain can deliver you ten times the votes as a state senator who’s endorsed you. Still, I break up these numbers between elected officials and activists since some campaigns have rolled out every halfway-significant person backing them. You can see the full list on Starting Line’s Endorsement Tracker.
Cory Booker’s Iowa team is widely regarded as the one with the deepest relationships among Iowa activists from past state campaigns. They hired heavily from operatives who ran state legislative and down-ballot statewide races — fittingly, then, they have the most (five) legislator endorsements. Beto O’Rourke’s large field team locked in many people when enthusiasm was high. One of Steve Bullock’s elected endorsers is the Iowa Attorney General. Most of Bernie Sanders’ elected official support is past activists from his 2016 race who then ran for office themselves.
Warren’s team has downplayed flashy endorsements. Her large Iowa political shop instead focuses on constituency outreach; Warren has specific staffers for women, African Americans, Latinx, rural, labor and veterans outreach.
The Staff Primary
These 11 candidates have invested significant resources into their Iowa ground game. I’m only including those that have more than ten Iowa staffers (nearly every candidate has at least a handful of Iowa staff). Numbers are rounded in a few instances. While the low-polling candidates may yet get a breakout moment this Fall, if you don’t have field organizers on the ground to call and lock in activists’ support while you’re hot, there’s only so much momentum will do for you.
While these current numbers are interesting, what’s important is when they staffed up. Warren and Booker built their teams very early in the year, snatching up a lot of staffers with considerable Iowa experience. Biden, Buttigieg and Harris’ large field operations mostly came online in July or early August. The lead time that Warren’s field staff in particular had was invaluable. I’ve met people at caucus events who’ve been volunteering for Warren for months even though they’re literally not sure she’s their first choice; her campaign was just the one that asked them first.
The Democratic field as a whole has racked up a ton of miles in Iowa, but only some have really started to push deep into the rural, smaller-population counties. Warren made extensive trips to Iowa early in the year. Klobuchar drives down from Minnesota often. O’Rourke does jam-packed, four and five-day visits when he’s here. Harris and Buttigieg have been here less than other early-announcers, possibly missing out when their buzz was the strongest (though they’re still getting very large crowds).
Thanks Pat! According to the FWIW Dashboard, nearly all of the leading Democratic candidates are investing heavily in digital advertising towards Iowa voters. But Kamala Harris, Pete Buttigieg, Elizabeth Warren, and Steve Bullock stand out.
Kamala Harris is clearly and heavily targeting Iowa voters with specific ads optimized for engagement. Several weeks ago we noticed her campaign was running several ads to Iowa women boosting magazine profiles of her candidacy and biography in magazines like Marie Claire, Glamour, and Vogue. After last week’s debates, she began running video ads highlighting quotes about local economics that may resonate with Iowans:
On top of that, POLITICO reported this week that Kamala Harris is the first major Democratic candidate to run TV ads in Iowa.
Meanwhile, Pete Buttigieg’s campaign was the first of the 2020 candidates to begin running ads promoting local news stories there, including boosting a supporter’s op-ed in Iowa Starting Line:
Elizabeth Warren’s campaign has also employed this tactic, while Steve Bullock’s team has been promoting local news stories about his campaign, as well as paying to boost photos of him campaigning in Iowa.
All of the “top-tier” Democratic candidates clearly see winning or doing well in Iowa as key to their path to victory, given their serious investments here.
Warren’s extensive early ground game means she’s likely doing several points better than her polls show. Booker is seen as the low-polling candidate with the greatest potential in Iowa if he ever gets a big national moment. 🏻 Candidates who have cooled off like Beto still have a big staff and lots of in-person visits under their belt (and he’s still drawing large crowds). The candidates who don’t have a field team built up by now are at a major disadvantage even if they catch fire nationally in the next few months.
One more thing… 🤳
That’s all for this week. But before you go, we have one more ask of you! We’re bringing FWIW on the road to SXSW in Austin next March, but we need your help to get there!