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.
In recent weeks, we’ve seen a slew of polls that show Democratic candidates for Senate are leading their Republican opponents in just about every competitive race this cycle. Every race is still too close for comfort, of course, but it probably doesn’t help Republicans that Donald Trump is deep underwater, QAnon activists are winning Congressional primaries, and the Trump administration is dangerously trying to rip the Affordable Care Act out from under us in the middle of a still-raging pandemic.
Since Democratic candidates for Senate are finding themselves in an increasingly favorable political climate, we wanted to take a look at how some of these Democrats have been running their digital ad campaigns recently in this week’s Senate FYI.
Remember that Lou Dobbs clip that attacked Roger Marshall for supposedly being a RINO that Kris Kobach tweeted out? Well, the Kobach campaign has apparently turned it into a TV ad.
Tommy Tuberville’s campaign bus caught fire in northeast Alabama last night. Thankfully, no one was hurt, and Tuberville’s campaign manager said in response: “Coach Tuberville’s candidacy has obviously caught fire with voters…and our bus has, too.”
Ahead of Tuesday’s primary, John Hickenlooper’s campaign spent more on Facebook + Google ads than they have all year. Before now, the most they had ever spent on the platforms was ~$90k in February, but last week they spent over $190k – a huge jump from the $28k they spent on FB + Google ads the previous week – but more on this below.
It would appear that the DSCC is significantly ramping up their digital ad spending, almost entirely driven by their $500k+ investment in FB ads just last week (in the same time period, they only spent $3,700 on Google ads). A significant portion of this ad buy seems to consist of end-of-quarter fundraising using Chuck Schumer and straw polls for Joe Biden’s potential running mates.
Also, while Senate Majority PAC’s 501(c)4 affiliate, Majority Forward, has been running a joint digital ad program with Priorities USA, they now appear to be running ads of their own on FB + Google for the first time in months. In mid-June, they started running this anti-Joni Ernst ad focusing on health care on the two platforms, and they started running anti-Steve Daines ads on FB that focus on the senator’s response to coronavirus through a page called “Our Big Sky Country.” So far, they’ve spent about $68k on these ads.
After only minimally spending money on FB + Google ads for the better part of a year, Martha McSally’s campaign has finally started investing in the platforms. For most of this year, her campaign rarely spent more than $20k on digital ads while Mark Kelly has been spending at least twice as much every week.
In Montana, Steve Bullock’s campaign also seems to be growing their digital paid media programs – they spent $50k+ on FB + Google ads last week compared to ~$16k in the beginning in May – but they’re still underspending Steve Daines’ consistent six-figure spending on the two platforms week after week.
To take a look at how Democrats in key U.S. Senate races are running their digital ads with only about four months to go until Election Day, let’s start with John Hickenlooper, who decisively won the Senate Democratic primary in Colorado this week and who quickly got the support of Andrew Romanoff, his more progressive challenger.
As we pointed out above, Hickenlooper’s campaign made a heavy investment in Facebook + Google ads in the final week before Tuesday’s primary consisting of over $100k on FB ads and over $92k on Google ads. Now, we’re big advocates of digital ad variety, and these ads have everything: public lands advocacy, Stacey Abrams, Cory Booker, clean energy, voter education, supporter testimonials, post-debate fundraising ads; and those are just the Facebook ads!
The Hickenlooper campaign’s Google + YouTube ads were just as various, but featured quite a few of the same video ads they promoted on FB as well. Notably, they also ran Google search ads directing people to a new microsite of theirs, getthefacts.co. We presume that this particular tactic was intended to head off any search queries folks might have after seeing a Republican ad attacking Hickenlooper over alleged ethics violations.
Speaking of Democratic Senate campaigns with smart digital ad strategies: Mark Kelly’s campaign is out with a slate of new biographical ads on both FB + Google, a significant portion of which is in Spanish. A few of these seem to subtly use Kelly’s experience in the military and in space to serve as a foil to Donald Trump’s inability to act and work with others to problem solve, while others seem to be trying to counter some of Martha McSally’s negative ads about him.
Sara Gideon’s campaign is also running two new video ads on Facebook (they have yet to run any ads on YouTube, as far as we can tell). One ad highlights the fact that Gideon led the effort to make Maine one of the first states to cap the price on insulin, and the other counters attack ads from Susan Collins ads that dubiously accused Gideon of tolerating a member of her caucus sexually assaulting high school girls.
We imagine the Collins camp chose that line of attack to undermine criticism of her vote to Brett Kavanaugh to SCOTUS. It’s too bad Kavanaugh himself took that away from the Collins campaign when he voted to overturn a four-year-old judicial precedent and severely restrict access to abortions. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
Finally, Cal Cunningham’s campaign also ramped up their spending recently. Two weeks ago, they only spent just under $10k on FB + Google ads, but last week they spent nearly $50k, most of which went to FB ads. Most of these are EOQ fundraising ads, of course, and many of them focus on Cunningham’s military service. Notably, a few of them also feature a fundraising appeal from fellow veteran and former presidential candidate, Pete Buttigieg, who also appeared on Cunningham’s social media feeds.
We wish we could highlight more, but that’s it for this week! In the meantime – 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.