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.
As we’re all painfully aware, the 2020 RNC is this week, an event that has turned out to be How Many Laws and Norms Can the Trump GOP Break in Four Nights 2020 and will culminate in President Donald Trump’s acceptance speech tonight, illegally held on the White House south lawn.
With multiple complex crises reaching new heights simultaneously this week, who knows what the president will say. Probably nothing helpful. But in this week’s Senate FYI, we take a look at what Republicans are talking to voters about online recently as the RNC veered from one non-message to the next.
This week, in the misadventures of Martha McSally: at a recent campaign event, she asked supporters to “fast a meal” and instead donate to her campaign. And, remember Mary Ann Mendoza, the woman who got pulled from Tuesday’s RNC lineup because she shared an anti-Semitic conspiracy theory? Turns out, McSally has met with Mendoza on at least twooccasions.
In Georgia’s special Senate election, Democratic leaders in the state are calling for Matt Lieberman to withdraw from the race. However, it seems that to drive home the point that he isn’t going anywhere soon, he launched an introductory ad featuring one of his daughters.
As the GOP grapples with QAnon among its ranks, an insane conspiracy theory that in part asserts that Jews are trying to enslave the world, the NRSC tweeted out a series of graphics implying that Chuck Schumer, who is Jewish, is silencing Democratic candidates with face masks and keeping them in his basement. Talk about a lot to unpack.
In the seven most competitive Senate races, two Democratic candidates have yet to spend more than $1 million on FB + Google ads: Gary Peters and Theresa Greenfield. On the other side of the aisle, only two Republican candidates have spent more than $1 million on the platforms: the free-spending Steve Daines and Martha McSally, whose own spending is still dwarfed by Mark Kelly’s.
The DSCC is continuing to grow their digital ad spending with list building and fundraising ads on both Facebook and YouTube featuring Stacey Abrams, this time advocating for vote by mail.
Next week, the long, bitter primary battle in Massachusetts between longtime incumbent Sen. Ed Markey and challenger Rep. Joe Kennedy III will finally come to a close. For those keeping score at home: over the past 90 days, Kennedy’s campaign has spent $151,826 on FB ads and $175,900 on Google ads, while Markey’s campaign has spent $321,977 and $122,000 on the respective platforms in the same time period.
Now, let’s take a look at what voters are seeing from Republican candidates online during Trump’s Big Show. We won’t have a complete look of how their digital ads stack up against the convention until early next week, but because the Facebook ad library updates daily, let’s start there.
One of the biggest Facebook ad buyers on the Republican side is, of course, Steve Daines, whose campaign has spent more than $100k on the platform every week for the past three weeks – most of which appears to be for using Don Jr. and Sean Spicer, of all people, to fundraise from older Americans nationwide.
Most recently, they’re advertising to Montanans the fact that Daines received an A+ rating from the NRA while attacking Steve Bullock for getting an F for wanting to pass “the most radical gun control laws in our nation’s history.” They’re also predictably running ads around Daines’ involvement with the Great American Outdoors Act.
However, lest we forget Daines is squarely a member of Trump’s GOP, they’re also apparently trying to make “Hanoi Jane” a thing again. The Vietnam War ended 45 years ago, Steve!
Joni Ernst, who was the second-biggest online spender last week, happened to speak at the RNC last night with a pre-recorded speech, where she wildly claimed that a Biden administration would abolish animal agriculture in Iowa.
The Ernst campaign’s line of attack against her challenger is only slightly less conflated: “Theresa Greenfield received millions from liberal extremists who want to defund the police, raise taxes, and destroy Iowa jobs.” Some of these anti-Greenfield ads lead to a microsite focused on the issue of campaign finance, to put it lightly. Their pro-Ernst ads highlight claims that she’s “Iowa nice, but not afraid of a fight.”
They’re also running slight variations of these same ads on Facebook, notably six-second animated graphics that drive home the same or similar messages. Trump GOP-er Ernst may be, but her campaign appears to know what they’re doing since we know that this tactic can be quite effective.
How about in states like North Carolina and Georgia, where incumbent Senators Thom Tillis and David Perdue are spending next to nothing on digital ads? Well, it appears that the NRSC and Senate Leadership Fund are picking up the slack, so as far as digital ads go, voters there are hearing more Trumpian rhetoric online than from the incumbents they’d be voting for or against.
Last week, the NRSC spent $19,615 targeting NC with their FB ads and $5,025 in GA. SLF, however, spent $5,743 targeting NC and $21,694 in GA. During that time, it appears that the NRSC opted not to run any of their “Hollywood Jon” ads on Facebook or Google.
Instead, it looks like they most recently gave Tillis some defensive air cover through their “Clueless Cal” Facebook page. They must know that Tillis doesn’t have a good hold on Trump’s base because they’re running Facebook ads touting Trump’s COMPLETE AND TOTAL ENDORSEMENT of the NC senator.
Senate Leadership Fund, which only started investing in digital ads late last month, is providing offensive cover for David Perdue. They’re attacking Jon Ossoff for allegedly wanting “higher taxes, higher utility bills, and higher gas prices,” twice citing The Heritage Foundation – so you know it’s legit. Interestingly, they’re using the same “We can’t afford him” line that the NRSC used in digital ads against Cunningham recently.
That’s it for this week! In the meantime – see any interesting posts, emails, or texts about Kamala Harris 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.