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 infamous NRSC memo advising Republican candidates to focus on China and steer clear of defending Donald Trump was released about a month ago. For the most part, they seem to be sticking to the plan, at least in their digital ads. Meanwhile, Democrats in these competitive races seem to be trying out some new tricks.
In this week’s Senate FYI, we check back in with how Senate candidates in the most competitive races are talking to voters through their digital ads.
One of America’s most violently racist politicians, Joe Arpaio, is returning to Arizona politics to run for his old seat of Maricopa County Sheriff. We’ll have to wait and see how his campaign affects the key Senate race in Arizona, but two things to remember: the county voted Arpaio out by a 14-point margin in 2016, and a new poll found that Mark Kelly leads Martha McSally in the crucial county by 18 points. 🤔
Civiqs/Daily Kos released one of the most comprehensive polls of Georgia’s double-barrel Senate elections so far. You can read the poll here, but the topline is that both races are competitive, but less so with Kelly Loeffler at the helm of the special Senate election. The poll found that each Democratic candidate holds a double-digit polling lead against Loeffler in hypothetical head-to-heads.
The feud between the two Republicans in this open primary is really starting to get out of hand. The Collins and Loeffler campaigns are already slinging mud at each other on social media, and the latter campaign has even gone so far as to use dougcollinsforsenate.com as an oppo-dump. The Loeffler campaign is also running Google search ads leading to the site that read “Fake Conservative | Sometimes Trumper,” and they’ve emailed supporters with similar oppo material.
On Tuesday, Donald Trump claimed that he’s been taking hydroxychloroquine. Shortly after, Roger Marshall, who is a practicing physician, also announced that he and his family are taking the anti-malaria drug that has not yet shown any sign of protecting against COVID-19.
It’s looking increasingly likely that Mark Kelly’s campaign is going to be the first Senate campaign in a competitive state to spend more than $1 million on Facebook + Google ads in 2020. It also looks like Theresa Greenfield’s digital ads operation is starting to pick up a little bit of steam as well – but more on that below.
It looks like Steve Daines’ campaign is getting serious with their digital ad spending. They’re the first Republican Senate campaign in a competitive state that’s spent over $100,000 on Facebook + Google ads in one week. So far, though, the majority of their recent ads, on both platforms, are fundraising ads featuring video CTAs from Mitch McConnell, Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, Rick Scott, Nikki Haley, and Don Jr.
This week, Theresa Greenfield’s campaign put out its first TV ad of the year. When some campaigns do this, they might put it up on YouTube and call it a day – but not the Greenfield campaign. They put it up on YouTube, yes, but they also put more money behind it than they have with any Google ad they’ve run so far this year (check out the graph from Google’s ad library below), AND they ran a Facebook-native version of the ad on the platform.
Joni Ernst’s campaign, meanwhile, is sticking to what we assume is working for them. They’re still running the same Facebook ads with Sarah Huckabee Sanders from April 9, and their campaign put out another slate of straight-to-camera video ads from Ernst.
John Hickenlooper supporters already know that he’s a man of many talents, including governing, campaigning, brewing, and playing the banjo. But his most recent digital ads show yet another side of Colorado’s most popular nerd: he plays basketball, apparently.
In one version of a slate of new video fundraising ads, Hickenlooper blocks a shot, and then says “And I’m also gonna block Mitch McConnell on the chokehold he has on the U.S. Senate.” His campaign is still running their more conventional ads, though, including one touting his enactment of vote by mail in Colorado.
In Maine, both the Sara Gideon and the Susan Collins campaigns are both trying new ways to feature their supporters’ voices in their recent Facebook ads, while both are still primarily sticking to search ads on Google. On the Democratic side, the Gideon campaign has turned some of their virtual town halls into video + static ads.
As for Susan Collins, their campaign has actually gathered brief testimonials from about two dozen supporters and are running them as straight persuasion ads without any call to action. These are all targeted at Maine, but we don’t know if these are targeted back at their respective communities like the Pete Buttigieg campaign did in Iowa earlier this year.
In Arizona, Mark Kelly’s campaign seems to be one of the most nimble when it comes to adjusting their tactics to use what works. Remember that lovely video of Kelly and Gabby Giffords that performed well on social? They must have realized how well it performed and then filmed a similar version, which they’re now testing as a list building ad on Facebook. They’re not running the ad on Google or YouTube, though – their most recent YouTube ad is a 15-second biographical spot.
The Martha McSally campaign, however, seems to be doubling down on their red meat messaging even as they continue to fall behind in the polls. They’re one of the campaigns vigorously sticking to the “attack China” directive of the NRSC memo. Her campaign seems to have landed on the slogan “Never trust a communist,” which is something they’ve now, at least, featured on her Instagram story and on Facebook + YouTube ads.
Finally, in North Carolina, Cal Cunningham’s campaign may not be spending money on Facebook + Google at the same clip as they were earlier this year (they haven’t run an ad on Google or YouTube since March), but the ads they are running on Facebook are primarily fundraising ads. They’re running a couple ads calling on supporters to donate to the “Fight Back Fund,” as well as a series of fundraising ads that use a captionless gif of 12 photos of Cunningham with supporters from back when he could physically interact with them.
Thom Tillis, meanwhile, has finally put out his first Facebook ads of the month, few as they may be. There are two sets: one uses anti-China rhetoric and imagery to list-build, while the other follows in the footsteps of Steve Daines and uses Don Jr. to fundraise.
And that’s it for this week! 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.