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.
Because of Donald Trump’s catastrophic handling of the pandemic, interconnected crises of public health, race relations, the economy, education, and evictions are stacking up. Things are not looking good, and Americans know it.
So the president is now campaigning on…beans. No wonder vulnerable GOP incumbents are keeping him out of their ads. While there may be no clear constructive relationship between the incumbent president’s and his party members’ campaigns this cycle, outside groups are starting to ramp up their digital ad investments as fall approaches. In this week’s Senate FYI, we take a look at the latest ads from key groups.
The Cal Cunningham campaign has now set up a program through ActBlue that will allow supporters to set up their own fundraising pages on behalf of the campaign. We think this is a SUPER smart idea with a lot of really interesting digital organizing + fundraising opportunities, and we can’t wait to see what this campaign accomplishes with it.
Speaking of North Carolina: as the ongoing public health crisis worsens and as an impending education crisis looms just weeks away, it would appear that Thom Tillis has figured out his winning message: “People remember how good their lives were back in February.”
Susan Collins has challenged Sara Gideon to 16 live debates — one for each county in Maine — using a tactic that worked out great for Jeff Sessions, who just lost the primary runoff for his old Senate seat to a former college football coach by more than 20 points.
The Q2 FEC filing deadline has passed, so now we know how much has been raised by candidates who didn’t announce their totals on their own. Notably, Mark Kelly raised over $12.8 million last quarter, while, in contrast, Kelly Loeffler only raised about $900k. Ouch.
Across the board, it would seem that several campaigns have stepped down their ad spending on FB + Google last week from the previous week, some by as much as 50 percent or more. Since there’s no clear correlation between the campaigns that have done so, we think that some are just temporarily putting the brakes on their spending after turning it up to fundraise ahead of the Q2 FEC filing deadline.
Majority Forward and One Nation, the 501(c)4 nonprofits affiliated with Senate Majority PAC and Senate Leadership Fund, respectively, seem to be significantly increasing their digital ad investments as we get closer to the fall. In light of that, we’ll be including them in our tracking from now on, and we’ll dig into their recent digital ad spending below.
Because Mark Kelly’s campaign was one of the many that slowed down their digital ad spending, and because Martha McSally’s campaign is still growing their spending, the former outspent the latter on digital ads for the first time since January.
For the past couple of months, Majority Forward, the 501(c)4 nonprofit affiliated with Senate Majority PAC, has been spending far more money through joint Facebook and Google pages with Priorities USA. Being joint pages, it’s hard to quantify spending through them, but we can and have pored through their ads anyway.
The two groups are investing in digital ads in three campaigns with matching Facebook pages: A Better Arizona, A Stronger Maine, and North Carolina Before Party, each respectively targeting Martha McSally, Susan Collins, and Thom Tillis over healthcare with non-electoral issue-based ads.
From what we can piece together from Facebook’s and Google’s publicly available targeting data, it would appear that the two groups are mostly showing these ads to women in these states’ suburbs and possibly exurbs. If you’re more intimately familiar with these states’ geographies, feel free to drop us a line and correct us!
Over the past month or so, THE biggest spender targeting Montanans via Facebook ads hasn’t been Steve Daines or Steve Bullock; it was Majority Forward, through their page Our Big Sky Country. The nonprofit spent $90k through the page running different variations of the same video ad that attacks Daines for supporting big businesses while opposing paid sick leave.
One Nation, affiliated with Senate Leadership Fund and Karl Rove, is also accelerating their digital ad investments, so let’s take a quick look at what they’re up to – and as it turns out, their ads are relatively tame.
The Republican-affiliated nonprofit is recently playing defense for Joni Ernst, Cory Gardner, Thom Tillis, and Steve Daines (), primarily with video ads puffing up actions they’ve taken to “hold China accountable” like co-sponsoring bills and writing letters to the president. With Joni Ernst, however, they seem to be using the “fights for small businesses” angle, possibly to counter Theresa Greenfield’s small business credentials.
While party committees, PACs, and affiliated nonprofits are the biggest outside spenders in key Senate races, they aren’t the only groups interested in using digital ads to move hearts and minds. Here are the biggest of these spenders over the past three months in some of the most competitive races, most of which we’ve previously covered in this newsletter:
Honest Arizona: $152,804
Piedmont Rising (NC): $87,809
Unite for Colorado: $65,524
Iowa Forward: $31,601
Maine Momentum: $38,514
Almost all of the ads from these groups are on offense against their respective targets. For example, Honest Arizona has recently been attacking McSally for her proposed paid vacation bill, whereas Unite for Colorado has been criticizing Hickenlooper over his alleged ethics violation.
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.