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 Senate has finally ended its August recess, and Senate Republicans have immediately gotten back to work by coming up with piecemeal COVID relief solutions and then blaming Democrats for blocking them (and by pretending they have neither eyes nor ears).
Meanwhile, voting for the 2020 general election has already started. And with the extraordinary amount of mail-in voting that’s expected to start very soon (voting in North Carolina has already started!) Senate candidates are already running voter education GOTV ads online. In this week’s Senate FYI, we take a look at some of these and to whom they’re being targeted.
The last remaining competitive Senate primary ended in New Hampshire Tuesday night. Bryant “Corky” Messner won the GOP primary there to take on Sen. Jeanne Shaheen. However, fellow GOP candidate Don Bolduc, who won 42 percent of the primary vote, is refusing to endorse Messner. Kind of a mess.
Yesterday, Joe Lieberman, the former Dem-turned-Independent U.S. senator from Connecticut, endorsed Susan Collins in a digital ad by the Republican Jewish Coalition that will apparently target women voters in Maine. It remains to be seen how this will impact Joe’s relationship with his son Matt Lieberman, who is running for Senate in Georgia as a Democrat.
A three-time cancer survivor in North Carolina called Thom Tillis’ DC office looking for answers on how to get healthcare right now. The staffer responded by comparing healthcare to a dress shirt: “If I can’t afford that dress shirt, I don’t get to get it.”
Gary Peters’ campaign broke their personal record for the third time in a row last week by spending over $110k on FB + Google ads – nearly 10 percent of their total spend on the platforms so far this year in just one week.
Last week, Senate Majority PAC started running Facebook ads through two new pages: Michigan Values and Montana True, which SMP actually used in 2018 to support Jon Tester. Now, they’re running anti-John James and anti-Steve Daines video persuasion ads through each for now through the respective pages.
The PAC must be attuned to the critical demographic in these races, because the anti-James ads primarily target young Michiganders, while the anti-Daines ads primarily target older Montanans.
Last week, Jon Ossoff’s campaign spent more on FB + Google ads than they have all year so far – $119k, just more than their pre-primary ad dump that cost them $118k. Meanwhile, David Perdue’s campaign still has not made any significant investments in digital advertising as far as we can tell. Last week, the Perdue campaign spent $5k on FB + Google ads, and the most they’ve ever spent in one week this year was $15k in mid-July.
Finally, we’re going to be tracking one more data point in The Senate FYI from here on: how much campaigns are spending on Facebook ads targeting their own state compared to their out-of-state FB spending. Notably, Steve Daines, who’s been spending close to $100k each week on the platform, is apparently spending the vast majority of that money on fundraising and list building ads targeting states outside Montana.
GOTV season nominally started at the 2020 DNC, when speaker after speaker urged voters to request their ballots that very week, considering how brazenly the Trump administration was literally dismantling the USPS. Quite a few Senate candidates have picked up that M.O., but their voter education and GOTV outreach are mostly on Facebook, at least when it comes to digital paid media.
As we mentioned, voting has already started in NC, where over 643,000 voters have requested an absentee ballot. The Cal Cunningham campaign knows this, as indicated by the fact that they’re now running animated fundraising ads nationwide about it. However, regardless of how much money these bring in, it may also serve to remind NC voters about incoming ballots – 65 percent of this ad buy targets North Carolinians.
Out West, Montana is a huge mail-in voting state due to its large rural population and the fact that inclement weather can make it difficult for folks to vote in person. So, it makes sense that both Steves running for Senate there are out of the gate early talking to voters about this online, albeit with altogether different approaches to the issue of course.
The Bullock campaign recently ran a Facebook ad campaign that, like the Cunningham campaign, is targeted nationwide but a significant portion targets Montana and fundraises off of Trump’s threats to voting by mail.
While we’re talking about the Bullock campaign, a quick aside that we’ve been wanting to highlight – about a month ago, they started an interesting SMS campaign that sends dad jokes (such as, “What did the fish say when it hit the wall? Dam.”) to subscribers once a week, on “Dad Joke Wednesday.” 🤦🏻♂️
On the other side of the race, the Daines campaign is running Facebook ads asking folks to make sure they aren’t marked as “inactive voters” by invoking Trump’s brand. The ads, which are primarily targeted at young men in Montana, direct to a microsite by the Daines campaign, votedaines.com. Similarly, it should be noted that the Trump campaign and the GOP are suing to stop Bullock’s voting expansion (as noted in Bullock’s ads).
In Iowa, Theresa Greenfield’s campaign posted a video yesterday of Greenfield holding her ballot at her mailbox talking about mail-in-voting, and they ran yet another IG story with basic info and resources against lovely pics of Iowa. And in Georgia, where absentee ballots will start going out next week, Jon Ossoff’s campaign posted severaltimesthis week on Facebook providing information about early and absentee voting.
And that’s it for this week! See any interesting posts or digital ads from Senate candidates that we missed? 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.