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 coronavirus pandemic only continues to accelerate its devastation as President Trump continues to make empty, sometimes fatal gestures and masquerading them as action. And even though the White House and Congress have just reached a deal on a historically massive rescue package, the worst is still yet to come, and Americans can think of little else but the compounding crises before us.
Following the revelation that Richard Burr may have engaged in insider trading earlier this week, PPP found that a slim majority of voters in North Carolina want the senator to resign. Sadly for North Carolina Republicans, the same poll found that only 26 percent of voters there approve of Thom Tillis’ job performance.
Kris Kobach, who is actually a law professor at the University of Missouri – Kansas City, held a virtual fireside chat via Facebook Live on Tuesday with just an iPhone. His Senate campaign has still spent $0 on digital ads so far, but this may indicate that his campaign may finally be acknowledging the importance of digital outreach – better late than never, we suppose.
Rep. Ben Ray Luján, the leading Democrat running to replace Sen. Tom Udall in New Mexico, shared a video on Twitter that showed us how he makes blue corn banana piñon pancakes. While pancakes may not be part of how he hopes to lead New Mexico as their senator (or is it?), this kind of straightforward content brings a much-needed sense of authenticity and levity from candidates in this moment.
Susan Collins harangued Democrats for “delaying” the recent coronavirus stimulus package, but as it turns out, she herself cut $870 million for pandemic preparedness from the 2009 stimulus package. 🤔
We reported last week that Cal Cunningham and Sara Gideon, two of the Democrats’ biggest online spenders, significantly ramped down their digital ad programs. For the most part, their ramp-down has continued into this week. In the past, both candidates spent heavily on Google + Facebook with a variety of issue-based and straight fundraising or list building ads, but now they’re only briefly testing a series of EOQ fundraising ads.
Steve Bullock’s campaign, meanwhile, is still spending online at a pretty amazing clip – in just two weeks, his campaign has now spent more than almost all Republicans in competitive races, and week over week he’s spending more than any of the candidates we’re tracking. At this rate, we wouldn’t be surprised if their campaign catches up with the other big Democratic online spenders in the coming weeks.
Senate Leadership Fund’s online spending remains low, but the super PAC is planning to spend $67 million on TV ads this fall in five battleground states – Arizona, Colorado, Iowa, Maine, and North Carolina – and Kentucky. In the meantime, we’ll keep an eye out to see if their expanded ad budget is also reflected in their digital spending.
How are Senate candidates talking about the pandemic, both on their social media feeds and in their digital ads? Let’s take a look.
When it comes to digital ads, it still seems that most candidates are shying away from the issue, but some seem to have realized that voters need to be hearing from candidates now about the pandemic – and at scale.
Susan Collins is one of the only candidates who seems to have realized this, but her campaign is still adhering to a barebones digital strategy. The few coronavirus-related ads that she’s running on Facebook (and she’s not running any on Google) are a 30-minute announcement that she’s suspending typical campaign activities, a TWELVE-minute video of a recent local press conference, and a boosted news article from…the Washington Times. 🤦♂️And as ever, none of these have a call to action.
Kelly Loeffler (who also may have engaged in some insider trading and whose husband is the chairman of the NYSE, let’s not forget) is also one of the only candidates to have run coronavirus-related ads on Facebook so far. Unlike Collins, however, Loeffler is connecting her new ads back to her business background appeal and an email ask.
On the Democratic side, Amy McGrath is now up with a new ad on Facebook promoting her campaign’s “Common Health, Commonwealth” program, but it’s not the one that the McConnell team leaked last week. From what we can tell, though, her campaign seems to be using primarily their social media channels to promote the program.
So far, they’ve only spent about $1,000 on the Facebook ad targeting Kentuckians, but that’s among the dozens of anti-McConnell list building ads they’re testing nationwide. Team McConnell, meanwhile, is up with a new TV + YouTube ad that attacks McGrath for her ads and puts the senator at the center of the legislative coronavirus relief efforts.
While there aren’t many candidates running digital ads about the pandemic, outside groups have taken up the mantle. Progressive groups such as American Bridge, Indivisible, and 314 Action have all started running Facebook ads against Republican senators running for re-election this year.
When it comes to candidates messaging on social media, however, the firehose is still wide open. Susan Collins, for one, is using her online platforms to promote a bipartisan coronavirus relief bill of her own (on which fellow Senate candidate Jeanne Shaheen is also a co-sponsor). This is in-line with her pitch as a bipartisan lawmaker, but we have to question her methods of distribution on this one.
Her campaign tweeted out a link to a .pdf of the legislative brief (who’s going to read that?); they tweeted out a link to the same brief on her unresponsive official Senate website (side scrolling, in 2020?); and they also posted the brief in its full, 8-pt wonky glory in a single Instagram post (their followers must have microscopes for eyes).
Other candidates have taken a more digital-friendly approach to their new campaign situation. Gary Peters’ campaign, for example, has been distributing the senator’s recent statements using slick animated graphics that seem to have been designed specifically for Instagram stories.
It’s quite common for campaigns of all kinds to just copy their other content from other channels and paste it on their IG story, but content like this shows that the Peters team has their Instagram audience well in mind.
Fortunately, they’re not the only campaign to understand the utility of reaching voters through Instagram stories. Frequent IG users will have noticed the permanent + collaborative “Stay Home” story, and some campaigns have picked up on it as well. With this, campaigns now have two chances to share their story content.
Doug Jones was one of the first Senate campaigns we’ve seen to take advantage of this brand new platform. His campaign posted a concise community-based call to action, and John Hickenlooper’s campaign reposted a video of the former governor banging out the tunes on his piano at home.
Like Hickenlooper, plenty of candidates are using their digital platforms to show voters how they’re handling the crisis at a personal level. Last week, we mentioned how Jon Ossoff’s wife, Alisha, is a medical professional. On Monday, Ossoff announced that Alisha would be working on the front lines at Atlanta’s biggest hospital for 14 straight days to help combat the virus, and his campaign used that announcement to drive some very wholesome engagement.
And in Michigan, John James – who previously hasn’t been shy to showcase his infant son in his channels – has started to document his own experience as a newfound homeschool teacher.
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.