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.
The federal government has passed three phases of coronavirus-related federal relief, and the Senate is out of session until at least April 20th. And even though Nancy Pelosi is already working towards a fourth phase of relief, Mitch McConnell doesn’t seem to be willing to give that idea any gas just yet.
Despite the Republican Senate majority leader demurring on providing more needed relief in a crisis unprecedented to modern times with about 10 million Americans unemployed in the past two weeks, the NRSC is already celebrating what little action its members have taken thus far.
Now that the CARES Act has passed, we take a look at how Republicans running for Senate seem to be focusing on celebrating America’s actions so far (including their own) to combat the crisis in their online messaging. Meanwhile, Democrats seem to be advocating for how much more could be done by the federal government to support Americans.
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In Georgia’s special Senate election, DSCC-endorsed Raphael Warnock has earned another big endorsement: that of legendary Rep. John Lewis, who’s also endorsed Jon Ossoff in the state’s other Senate race.
Right as Q1 comes to a close and as most candidates ramp up their fundraising asks, Martha McSally’s campaign says she’s decided to suspend all fundraising for the campaign and will instead fundraise for the Salvation Army of Arizona and other charities during their new “15 days of giving” campaign.
Doug Collins, on the other hand, is keeping his foot on the gas. Remember those Trump straws? The Collins campaign has come out with a set of their own, claiming, “No deplorable is complete without their own set of Drain the Swamp Straws!” Way to own the libs, Doug.
Larry Sabato’s Crystal Ballchanged its ratings for three Senate races this morning. It moved Arizona from Toss-up to Leans Democratic, and it moved Maine from Leans Republican to Toss-up. But, they also moved Georgia’s regular Senate election from Leans Republican to Likely Republican.
Oh, how the tables have turned. While Sara Gideon and Cal Cunningham are still on a digital spending pause, relatively speaking, Susan Collins was able to outspend Gideon online this week, and it looks like Cory Gardner may have finally started to put some money behind his digital outreach. Meanwhile, in Montana, Bullock is continuing to blow Daines out of the water online in the Battle of the Steves.
Last week, the Senate Leadership Fund announced that it was planning $67 million in TV ads this fall supporting six of their Senate candidates, including Mitch McConnell. Not to be outdone, Senate Majority PAC has announced that they’re planning a nearly $70 million TV ad buy in the same states, excluding Kentucky.
This is all well and good, but we’re relieved that Democrats aren’t just holding onto all of their money until the fall – this week, the DSCC crossed the $1 million mark in their digital ad spending, while the NRSC has yet to cap $500k.
While Congress has taken unprecedented action (which still may not be enough) to combat a problem without precedent in modern times, the Trump administration finds a new way to fumble every single day. These directly contrasting events are on full display for America, but in the increasing noise of millions of Americans stuck at home using the internet, Democrats and Republicans running for Senate this year seem to be aligning around two separate themes in their online messaging.
While everyone is celebrating what’s being done so far – both at the community level and at the federal level – Republicans seem to be limiting their online messaging to just that. Democrats are taking it a step further by talking to voters online about how hard the pandemic is hitting communities, industries, and outlining what steps can be taken to further alleviate different aspects of the crisis.
First, let’s take a look at the two Democrats running for re-election in competitive races: Gary Peters in Michigan and Doug Jones in Alabama. Both of these senators seem to be toeing a very careful line of being up-front about the crisis without directly confronting the president for his administration’s lackluster response.
Peters, for his part, is one of the only Democrats running for Senate who has run ads on Facebook about the coronavirus, and his campaign is doing so by boosting positive local news coverage of his legislative action.
On social media, Peters’ campaign has taken a similar tone to the one in their ads. They’re highlighting individual groups that the senator has taken action to support, or is fighting to keep supporting, such as medical professionals, independent contractors, and women (who still don’t have equal pay for equal work). They also gave a shout-out to Lizzo, a Detroit native, for her recent lunch donation to Henry Ford Hospital’s ER team.
In Alabama, Doug Jones hasn’t put any money behind Facebook ads since early February, and has only been running search ads on Google. We can’t necessarily blame their campaign for this decision, though, seeing as a quarter of Alabamians don’t have internet access. This includes a significant number of residents in the state’s Black Belt, where Jones’ key pockets of support are.
When it comes to their social media channels, the Jones campaign seems to have a video-first approach to discuss what the senator is doing and how communities across Alabama are reacting. On his official Senate Twitter account, Jones posted (pretty lengthy, at 5+ minutes each) straight-to-camera videos explaining his positions on the coronavirus relief package as it was evolving. And now, on his campaign Facebook page, they’re releasing straight-to-camera videos made by Jones’ supporters about what they’re doing to support their communities.
Democratic challengers in competitive Senate races are being more forceful about what must be done at the federal level given the severity of the crisis. John Hickenlooper, Sara Gideon, and Cal Cunningham, all of whom have slowed down their digital spending, have been sounding the alarm for their voters about how bad people are hurting and how the current federal government is failing to do right by their constituents – and they’re all amplifying local reporting to do it.
On the Republican side, Susan Collins remains to be one of the only candidates in her conference to advertise online about the pandemic. In her ads, her campaign is continuing to highlight how individual Mainers are supporting their communities.
On social media, Collins’ channels are sparse, but they primarily focus on providing general information and public health guidance regarding the pandemic, and also highlight what some individuals are doing to support or at least cheer up their communities.
Other Republican incumbents, many of whom are getting severely outspent online by their Democratic challengers, have been using their social media feeds to celebrate what the CARES Act will do for Americans. And, of course, they’re congratulating and thanking the president for signing the bill into law.
John James, one of the few Republican challengers this cycle, may not be constrained by the politics of crisis as leaders everywhere are, but his campaign is in-line with Republican messaging nonetheless. He has profusely thanked President Trump for supporting Michigan (which is misleading at best), and he’s still posting admittedly very cute homemade videos featuring his toddler son.
On a final, lighter note, Mark Kelly and his twin brother, Scott, took to the Kelly campaign’s Instagram Live this week to read to kids about mice in space (mousetronauts!!!) for bedtime.
This week’s newsletter only scratches the surface of these candidates’ messaging, but that’s it for this week! See any interesting posts about the coronavirus from Senate candidates that we missed? Have races or candidates you think we should watch? See ads or digital strategies that we should note? 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.