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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.
Since we covered how Senate candidates are talking to voters about health care two weeks ago (or was it two years ago?), the coronavirus outbreak has become a national health crisis, no thanks to President Trump’s egocentric response. As the pandemic’s impact on our lives grows by the day, how are senators and their challengers talking to voters online about the disease and our country’s response to it? We take a look in this week’s Senate FYI.
Georgia has moved its presidential primary to May 19th, the same day as the primary election for David Perdue’s seat. A new AJC/UGA poll of the race found that while Jon Ossoff holds a solid lead over Teresa Tomlinson and Sarah Riggs Amico, a plurality of Democratic voters are undecided.
In Alabama, Tommy Tuberville released an extremely, um…masculine(?) ad touting Trump’s endorsement and using one of the president’s favorite insults against Jeff Sessions: “WEAK.” This primary runoff has now been rescheduled for July 14th due to coronavirus concerns.
John Cornyn couldn’t be bothered to take the coronavirus seriously. Rather than stay in D.C. and pass an emergency relief bill for his constituents, Cornyn celebrated the Senate’s long weekend with…a Corona. 🤬
McSally’s hold on her Senate seat is tenuous as ever, with a Monmouth poll showing her down 50-44 against Democrat Mark Kelly.
While nearly every Democratic candidate we’re tracking is outspending their opponents online by huge margins, Theresa Greenfield lags behind Joni Ernst by a small margin. On the other hand, Steve Bullock’s nascent campaign has flown past Steve Daines’ digital spending in just one week, even though the latter has had months to establish their online presence. You snooze you lose, senator. 🤷♂️
Interesting to note: the campaigns of Sara Gideon and Cal Cunningham, two of the biggest online spenders this cycle, have paused their spending recently.
Gideon’s campaign stopped spending on FB + Google earlier this week, while Hickenlooper’s and Cunningham’s campaigns stopped spending on Facebook about a week ago – and neither two men have spent anything on Google for nearly two weeks.
In DC and around the world, the coronavirus pandemic is a rapidly shifting problem, to put it mildly. It’s affecting our politics too – some primaries have been postponed to protect public health, but America is still bound for a general election this November.
As campaigns up and down the ballot re-evaluate their operations, Senate candidates and incumbents running this year are forced to talk to voters online about how they would – or are, in the case of incumbents – handle the federal response to the pandemic.
It would appear that, for the most part, Senate candidates are primarily avoiding talking about coronavirus in their digital ads. Among the exceptions is the DSCC, who’s running acquisition ads on FB asking for supporter’s opinion of Trump’s handling of the pandemic. At the same time, the NRSC is running acquisition ads focused on…“late-term” abortions. 🙄
Unlike a couple of his big-spending colleagues, Mark Kelly is continuing right ahead with his heavy digital spending. His team is running dozens of ads focused on protecting our health care and lowering drug costs.
Otherwise, most candidates are sticking to mainstream organic social media to talk to voters about the coronavirus now that conventional campaigning is off the table. The dozen or so candidates we’re tracking have talked about little else in the past week, so we can’t capture everything they said, but here are some of the highlights.
After Mitch McConnell all but dismissed the Senate for a long weekend, Amy McGrath placed an op-ed in the Lexington Courier-Journal attacking the majority leader over his health care record. Her team also launched an online organizing tool called “Commonwealth, Common Health” to help Kentuckians help members of their community in these extraordinary times.
But of course, Mitch McConnell doesn’t care about that. Concurrently, his team caught wind of an attack ad that McGrath’s team had planned that’s going to hit McConnell over his absence as the pandemic worsened.
In response, his campaign made a bunch of noise in right-wing media outlets, accused McGrath’s of ~~politicizing~~ the crisis, and then leaked the audio from the ad, which, unsurprisingly, is actually extremely tame.
In Georgia, Teresa Tomlinson’s campaign realized that now that millions are in their homes all day every day, it’s the perfect time to phone bank for her campaign. She also recorded a straight-to-camera video while social distancing herself encouraging followers to stay connected and supportive of each other.
Jon Ossoff, for his part, is married to a doctor, and he featured his wife and her medical advice on his Twitter and his Instagram story with a slick explainer video.
Ossoff also introduced his IG story + TL to Frankie, the social distancing puppy. And he isn’t the only Senate candidate using cute animals in his coronavirus messaging. In Iowa, Theresa Greenfield’s campaign used her sweet pup on her IG story, presumably to drive some engagement on her channel.
Like most elected officials and candidates this week, John Hickenlooper has been using his social media channels to advise voters on public health best practices. Yesterday, he also celebrated the passage of the first federal coronavirus aid package, but criticized the bill’s scope. But, it isn’t all doom and gloom on his channels: recently, his campaign’s IG story crowdsourced some positive advice, and through this, they showed us that, if anything, puns will definitely endure this crisis.
Incumbents on both sides of the aisle seem to be focusing on what they’re doing in their capacity as an elected official and on how their constituencies are responding to the crisis.
Joni Ernst, for example, has used her channels to highlight the work that local Iowa distilleries are doing to produce + distribute hand sanitizer across the state. Ernst also used her channels to plug a little bit of coronavirus-related earned media.
In Michigan, Gary Peters is taking a similar approach. He’s distributed info about coronavirus resources in Michigan, such as an interactive map of free meals for kids while school lunches are unavailable, and he also shared a brief explainer to his official Senate office IG story that’s now pinned to his account. The senator will also be hosting a Facebook livestream later today to address his constituents online and answer some of their questions.
Peters also shared a straight-to-camera video he seemed to have recorded after he FaceTimed his 95-year-old mother for her birthday – because he couldn’t wish her a happy birthday in person.
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.