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.
This week, campaigns and politicos alike adopted a new conventional wisdom: this year’s four marquee Senate races are in Maine, Colorado, North Carolina, and Arizona, with Iowa not far behind – all of which have Republicans on defense.
This shift was in part catalyzed by a POLITICO analysis that got a lot of play online and gave favorable coverage to Democratic challengers, as well as POLITICO shifting Maine’s Senate race from Lean Republican to Toss-up. Theresa Greenfield’s campaign went so far as to feature the story in some recent Facebook ads, and John Hickenlooper cited the story directly in a fundraising email on Tuesday.
Meanwhile, some campaigns – especially John Hickenlooper’s and Steve Bullock’s – seem to be tuning into the fact that Americans are very happy with their state governments, and are using that sentiment to their advantage in recent ads.
Others are continuing to tout support for essential workers, and surprise surprise, Republican candidates’ channels seem to have all but forgotten that Earth Day was yesterday. Just like Mark Warner’s absolutely ghoulish “tuna melt sandwich”, there’s a lot to unpack this week, so let’s get into it.
As of this morning, Google had still not provided new weekly political spending data, so this week’s charts only include new numbers from Facebook. That said, there are a few insights we can still draw from the Facebook data alone.
Most notably, Cal Cunningham’s campaign has all but entirely paused its digital advertising operation. And since Thom Tillis spent $0 on digital ads yet again, this means that North Carolinians didn’t hear from either of their U.S. Senate candidates through the two major paid digital media platforms for the past week.
While the DSCC and Senate Majority PAC continue to outspend their Republican counterparts online by wide margins, the NRSC’s email fundraising program is robust. For example, one recent email from them with the subject line, “Extremely disappointing…”, all but shamed non-givers (we assume) for not donating money despite their repeated please from the party’s biggest talking heads. This is an interesting tactic given the state of Americans’ pocketbooks right now, but that’s none of our business.
And, while Martha McSally’s campaign has yet to resume their digital advertising operation following the senator’s pledge to halt all advertising in the first half of April, they are still fundraising from their supporters via email using red-meat right-wing rhetoric. They’ve been emailing supporters at least twice a day this week, including one email titled, “Does the WHO represent your values?”
In a nation gripped with anxiety and uncertainty, most Senate candidates seem to be holding back on offensive messaging in their digital ads when it comes to the coronavirus pandemic – with the exception of the typical red-meat rhetoric from Republicans, but more on that later. Gary Peters’ campaign, for example, seems to be testing a fleet of new ads that advocate for hazard pay for essential employees like health care workers, grocery store workers, and postal carriers.
John James, on the other hand, has only run six Google Search ads so far this month.
Republican incumbents in competitive races, however, seem to be channeling their constituents’ anxieties and fears into a darker place. Cory Gardner, who had been taking a relatively mild tone in previous digital ads, has now joined the chorus alongside Steve Daines in taking on a fearmongering tone regarding China in order to fundraise from older Americans. And speaking of Daines, it appears that he’s the first Republican candidate to have featured the one and only Don Jr. in his Facebook ads!
Other Democrats are focusing on the action that their local and state governments have accomplished so far, both during this current crisis and in past years. This makes perfect sense considering that governors everywhere are experiencing extraordinary polling boosts as they deftly tackle the coronavirus pandemic while Trump provides nothing but further uncertainty.
Steve Bullock, for example, launched a bunch of new ads this week that highlight his popular gubernatorial brand as an honest, hard-working, no-nonsense public servant. This served Jon Tester well in 2018, and since Bullock already had a net approval rating of +21 in the state, it may serve him especially well this year.
Former Governor John Hickenlooper also seems to have realized that pushing his positive record while leading Colorado will serve his campaign well. While his campaign has recycled some old ads that tout his previous actions to fight climate change and provide better health care for Coloradans, they’re also out with some new Facebook ads that highlight Hickenlooper’s actions in previous times of crisis.
While Sara Gideon may not be the governor of Maine, she is the state’s Speaker of the House, giving her a unique opportunity to also cash in on Americans’ rising opinions of their state and local governments. For their part, Gideon’s campaign is highlighting her role in swiftly passing a state-level stimulus package through the state legislature.
And speaking of, uh, wired, it looks like John Hickenlooper was the only Senate candidate to mention marijuana on Monday in any channel, aside from an otherwise inconspicuous email from MJ Hegar’s campaign on Monday titled, “we’re blunt in Texas.”
More commonly celebrated by Senate candidates this week was Earth Day’s 50th anniversary yesterday. Gary Peters highlighted the importance of protecting the ever-beautiful Great Lakes, while Mark Kelly ventured out to Saguaro National Park to advocate for environmental protections. Kelly also gave us a sentimental photo from his time in space that a screenshot in a newsletter simply will not do any justice for. And, as of this writing, John James was the only Republican Senate candidate to tweet about Earth Day.
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.