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 all over the internet.
The coronavirus outbreak threatens to snowball into a global pandemic. The Supreme Court is taking up the Affordable Care Act for the third time. America is STILL in an opioid overdose epidemic with no end in sight. As a result, we’ve got health care on the mind. This week, we take a look at how some Senate candidates are talking about health care in their digital advertising, and spoiler alert, most Republicans are not.
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We know that there are more interesting Senate candidates and races than we can cover in one newsletter – that’s why we’re thrilled to launch our Senate digital spending dashboard on our website. Much like our FWIW spending dashboard, you’ll be able to see how much this cycle’s Senate candidates in some of the most competitive races have spent their money online so far this year. We’ll be updating the page every week as Facebook and Google release spending data, and we’ll continue to build it out as the race to control the upper chamber evolves.
Well, well, well, it looks like Steve Bullock might be running for Senate in Montana after all. We’ll be sure to take a look at Steve Daines’ digital spending if/when Bullock officially jumps in.
The Michigan Democratic Party has made an FEC complaint against an outside group called Better Future Michigan. The group has many, many ties with John James’ campaign, and has gotten lots and lots of money from the infamous DeVos family. They haven’t spent much on digital ads yet, but we’ll keep an eye out if they survive the coming legal hurdles.
President Trump all but anti-endorsed Jeff Sessions first thing Wednesday morning now that the Alabama GOP Senate primary has gone to a runoff between him and Tommy Tuberville. The runoff election is on March 31, so this is gonna be a fun few weeks, folks.
In his victory speech Tuesday night, Cal Cunningham gave a shout-out to Mitch McConnell for trying to “infiltrate” the North Carolina Democratic primary.
A quick update on the Kelly Loeffler/Doug Collins ongoing spat: Lou Dobbs recently came to Collins’ defense, and now the Collins campaign is putting money behind the clip on Facebook.
Public Policy Polling announced a new set of polls that found that Martha McSally, Susan Collins, Cory Gardner, and Thom Tillis all lag their Democratic challengers by at least four percentage points.
By the numbers:
We’re seeing a pretty clear story in total digital ad spending in these competitive Senate races, week after week. Sara Gideon is spending online at an amazing clip, and most Democrats are dramatically outspending their opponents – except for Theresa Greenfield.
Joni Ernst continues to be the only Republican in these races who’s outspending her Democratic challenger. Even still, though, Ernst hasn’t spent much, relatively speaking, and there’s plenty of time for Greenfield to kick her digital spending into high gear like Gary Peters’ campaign recently did.
Moving forward, we’ll also be tracking cumulative digital spending by the two political action committees associated with Senate Democrats and Senate Republicans: the Senate Majority PAC and the Senate Leadership Fund, respectively.
Here’s how much each candidate in six competitive Senate races spent on Google + Facebook last week:
Health care is at the fore, again
The Supreme Court has conspicuously taken up the Affordable Care Act a time when some Americans who may have COVID-19 are denied testing and others are charged exorbitant costs for doing the right thing and reporting themselves. And being an election year, Democratic candidates are probably feeling pretty good about making health care a prominent campaign issue again.
Three years into his presidency, Americans don’t approve of how Trump has handled various health care issues, and Americans trust Democrats much more on health care much more than they trust Republicans. These two data points help explain why the conventional wisdom from 2018 is that Democrats won on health care. So how are Democrats running for Senate in 2020 trying to repeat their previous success with their digital ads? And are Republicans trying to convey a health care message in their digital advertising at all?
Sara Gideon has spent over $500,000 on digital ads so far, and might hit $1M in a matter of weeks, but so far her campaign only seems to have run a handful of ads that talk specifically about health care. Her few ads highlight her trip to a town in Maine that doesn’t get a lot of visits from campaigns as part of her #SupperWithSara campaign.
Susan Collins’ ads primarily tend to be basic fundraising asks cushioned in bipartisan rhetoric, but she is one of the very few Senate Republicans that has run digital ads focusing on health care. Most recently, Collins’ campaign promoted a local earned media spot about issues with the Veterans Crisis Line. In another ad – just the one – in November of last year, her team advertised Collins’ prescription drug cost bill that became law in late 2018. It also looks like Collins may also be trying to own Congress’ emergency coronavirus package. 🤔
Cal Cunningham, fresh off a decisive primary victory in North Carolina on Tuesday, is already running donation ads on Facebook that focus on health care and feature his victory speech. And during the primary, Cunningham’s campaign tested tons of acquisition ads that hit Thom Tillis and Republicans over their attempts to take health care away from North Carolinians.
In Colorado, John Hickenlooper has been testing health care ads on Facebook for months. He’s run dozens of ads specifically on health care, likely because it’s one of the foundational issues of his campaign so far, alongside climate change and gun control. He seems to be echoing Bernie Sanders’ main talking point that health care is a right in some of his ads (Sanders did just win Colorado, after all), and is focusing on lower health care costs.
Mark Kelly in Arizona is one of the biggest online spenders and tests a lot of ads on Facebook, but he seems to primarily spend money online to make money online. It looks like his most recent ads that mention health care were in late January. The acquisition ads feature his wife, and focus on lowering the cost of prescription drugs. He’s also one of the only candidates we’ve seen that’s testing messaging about senior health care.
And finally, while Theresa Greenfield in Iowa hasn’t spent as much online compared to her Democratic colleagues, her campaign has still run plenty of digital ads about health care. She also seems to be one of the only Democratic candidates to talk about Roe v. Wade in her recent digital ads (the below ad was from January of this year). And unlike other Democratic candidates’ recent health care ads, Greenfield’s campaign seems to be unique in their approach of so prominently featuring her opponent’s record.
The DSCC has also been running Facebook ads on the issue, but they primarily seem to be running list building ads about some of the most vulnerable Republican incumbents this cycle. And as far as we can tell, the NRSC hasn’t run any ads that mention health care since July 2018…when they were advertising for then-Sen. Dean Heller.
That’s it for this week! Are there any digital health care ads you’ve seen 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 click below to follow us on Twitter.