Welcome to the Senate FYI! Each week, we’ll track how the battle to flip the Senate is playing out where voters get their information—online. We’ll monitor spending on digital advertising, as well as watch how the campaigns are engaging supporters and voters online.
March lasted for a year. April went by in 30 seconds. How will the remaining six months until Election Day go? A betting man would probably put money on “not great”, but Democrats hoping to flip the Senate have plenty to look forward to, at least for now.
In this week’s Senate FYI, we take a look at how Democrats running for Senate have been using their online platforms and digital ad programs to build on or maintain their momentum as races up and down the ballot get more intense by the day.
We reported in previous issues that Steve Daines has been aggressively pushing anti-China rhetoric in his digital ads. Ironically, though, it turns out that Montana’s junior senator has been pretty cozy with Chinese officials for years.
Remember Air Claire McCaskill? Well, Kelly Loeffler, one of the richest people to ever serve in Congress, recently put out an ad touting how she…recently used her private jet! 🤦♂️ She also included other accomplishments in the ad that have nothing to do with her power or responsibility as a U.S. senator. This is an interesting approach to spin the drip of stories about the complicated relationship between her office and her extraordinary wealth.
#ElectionTwitter found this poll to be possibly dubious, not only because of concerns about how the poll was conducted, but also because they also found that John Hickenlooper had a 17-point lead over Cory Gardner. Previous polls had Hickenlooper at about a 10-point lead. However, another poll (albeit from a Democratic firm) found that Hickenlooper has an 18-point lead.
The Democratic Senate primary in Massachusetts seems to be heating up: Ed Markey put out a new ad this week attacking Joe Kennedy for attacking Ed Markey in a recent TV interview. For those curious: Kennedy has spent $103,969 on Facebook + Google ads so far in 2020, while Markey has spent $28,139.
In Q1 2020, Mark Kelly raised a whopping $11 million and boy is his campaign spending it on digital ads – they spent over $85k on FB + Google ads last week alone. However, that’s still not the most they’ve spent on those platforms in one week. The week of March 22nd, his campaign spent nearly $95k.
Among Senate candidates in the most competitive races this year, though, the record so far goes to Sara Gideon’s campaign, which spent $136,112 on FB + Google ads the week of February 2nd. Here’s how much each campaign has spent on the two platforms so far:
While the Senate Majority PAC recently announced that they were dropping $700k on a TV ad in Montana attacking Steve Daines, some of their most recent digital ads on FB + YouTube have primarily two targets: Michigan and Iowa.
And it’s a good thing too that SMP is targeting Iowans with their ads, because Theresa Greenfield’s campaign still has not really invested in the tactic in the same way that her peers have. That isn’t to say that their campaign doesn’t recognize the importance of digital outreach, though. We’ve noticed that of Democrats running for Senate, her campaign is one of the most active on Instagram and Facebook – but more on that below.
It’s still a bit too early to tell with much certainty which party is favored to take control of the Senate and the White House, but there’s plenty of reasons to be excited if you’re a Democrat. It’s probable that the remarkably poor reception of Trump’s coronavirus response is having some down-ballot effects, as recent polls of key Senate races are almost all trending towards Democrats, not to mention the strong fundraising hauls Democrats pulled in Q1.
So, how are some of the Democrats running for Senate building their momentum (real or perceived) on their digital channels? Let’s start with Theresa Greenfield in Iowa.
Like we mentioned, Greenfield’s campaign hasn’t spent too much on digital ads on Facebook and Google, according to the platforms’ ad library reports, but they do have an active presence on their organic social media channels.
Her campaign posts to Instagram and Facebook at least once a day, if not more, and they frequently put up really solid content on their Instagram stories that also drives engagement. For example, here’s what they posted late last month about voting:
Her campaign has also done a good job of using straight-to-camera videos from the candidate, even before the pandemic hit.
The other Democratic woman running for Senate in a competitive race this year, Sara Gideon, has a larger audience online – and while she may not post as much content on Instagram, their campaign seems to be putting in a lot of work to still get the candidate in front as many people as possible even if it’s not in person.
Just from scrolling through her Twitter feed from the past week, we know that Gideon has had virtual town halls with Mainers with pre-existing conditions, teachers, brewers, rural healthcare workers, campaign volunteers, union members, and local manufacturers. Not only are these virtual town halls an easy way to get Gideon “out there,” but they’re also a great source of organic, shareable video content.
Speaking of organic, shareable content: that’s something that Mark Kelly’s campaign is very, very good at. This week, their campaign put out a very touching video featuring Kelly and Gabby Giffords. It was one of their best-performing videos in a while, and we can guess that it did well because it succinctly restates their powerful campaign ethos and it subtly shows a very human side of these two public figures.
This week also happened to have May the Fourth Day AND National Astronaut Day, two occasions that line up perfectly with Kelly’s brand. The campaign celebrated the latter with a very fun little easter egg, and the former with a well-produced video that restates how Kelly’s life experience as an astronaut has formed his governing priorities.
Finally, Cal Cunningham in North Carolina is one of the few candidates who posts photos to his campaign channels as if he’s taking and posting them himself. For example, he recently posted a photo of his front porch light on to show solidarity with teachers and photos of his daughter to announce that she’ll be attending NC State University. This kind of content can seem corny to some, but it can also perform pretty well (which it did) and boost authenticity.
And like Sara Gideon, Cal Cunningham’s campaign has also realized that digital conferences can be turned into content that does very well on social media. For example, they recently turned a recent talk of his with young voters into a well-designed, shareable video. Whoever makes up their creative team, we hope they keep it up; in their recent Facebook fundraising ads that argue that NC is a swing state, they used a video illustration that shows the state as a literal swing.
And that’s it for this week! See any interesting posts, emails, or texts about the pandemic from Senate candidates that we missed? Send us an email! You can also check out our previous issues on our website, and be sure to check out our online dashboard for a detailed breakdown of candidates’ digital spending.