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.
In the months since we started covering the digital race for control of the U.S. Senate, the map has expanded considerably in Democrats’ favor. However, even with a widening map, the must-win seats for Dems remain almost the same as they were in January: Arizona, Colorado, Maine, and North Carolina.
Since we spent a fair amount of time with this cycle’s sleeper races in recent issues, in these final two weeks before the election we’ll take one last look at the digital trends in the above core races, starting with Dems’ best shots: AZ-Sen and CO-Sen.
With just under two weeks to go, this year’s most competitive Senate races are about as expensive as they’re going to get online, especially with millions of votes already cast and Facebook pulling the plug on new ads in the week before Election Day.
AZ-Sen is among the most expensive overall among just the candidates, with Mark Kelly and Martha McSally having spent nearly $10.5 million in FB + Google ads. However, the award for most expensive goes to SC-Sen, where Jaime Harrison alone has spent over $15 million, while Lindsey Graham has spent nearly $10 million. 🤯
Coming into this month, Senate Majority PAC has $45 million COH while Senate Leadership Fund has $113 million on hand, and both are putting their money to work online. Google is now providing the public with advertisers’ spending on the platform by state – better late than never, right? – so now we can see that Senate Leadership Fund spent over $530k targeting CO, ME, and NC on FB + Google, and over 80% of that cash went to NC and $0 went to AZ or MI.
On the Democratic side, SMP spent over $900k targeting those same states last week, with nearly 60% of that money targeting NC. However, one thing to keep in mind when talking about SMP’s online spending is their significant partnership with Priorities USA Action and the various FB pages through which they run ads. Last week, the partnership spent nearly $830k targeting AZ, CO, ME, MI, and NC on the two platforms.
Also with Google’s state-level spending now available, we can get an even clearer picture of how campaigns are targeting their states. The trendline does remain mostly the same, though, with most candidates prioritizing in-state targeting and Dems outspending Rs in that regard. However, one notable exception is in NC, where Cal Cunningham’s spending in the state has all but evaporated.
To flip the Senate, Democrats’ most likely path runs through Arizona, Colorado, Maine, Michigan, and North Carolina. And while AZ and CO aren’t likely to really be tipping-point races right now since Kelly and Hickenlooper have had consistently large polling + fundraising advantages, we believe that they’re still worth covering in this group considering how crucial they are to a possible Democratic majority in 2021. So, with that said, let’s get into this week’s deep dive, starting with…
🏜 Arizona 🏜
Percent of 2016 AZ votes already cast: 40.8%*
For just about the entire race in the Copper State, the Mark Kelly campaign has been outspending and outmaneuvering Martha McSally online (and judging by Kelly’s persistent strength as a candidate, probably offline as well). Their digital ad game has been from the start, and they’re ending out strong too.
In their closing argument, they’re leaning full tilt into Kelly’s astronautical background, and it rules. One of their latest ads, which is one of our faves of the cycle, has everything – Kelly’s pre-2011 shuttle launch monologue, Gabby Giffords, and the one and only CIARA.
They’re targeting this ad at young Arizonans and young men in particular, but it’s hardly the least of their astronaut-themed paid digital media targeted at young folks. We’re encouraged to see that they’re deploying simple six-second video ads on the platform, as we know this tactic can be remarkably effective. Moreover, they’re also pushing ads to young folks on FB that attack McSally’s unpopular positions.
As for Martha McSally’s campaign, we’re also seeing more of the same, which in this case is very much not a compliment. They’re using a lot of the same tactics to fundraise on FB still, and they’re still using bad-faith and just completely hollow attacks against Mark Kelly.
The major difference in the closing weeks is that they’re using Amy Coney Barrett in quite a lot of their new ads. FYI, these anti-Kelly ads slightly favor young Arizonans in their targeting. In their Google ads, we see the same level of fear-mongering around taxes, gun control, and the “liberal mob.”
⛰ Colorado ⛰
Percent of 2016 AZ votes already cast: 43.3%*
The Senate race in Arizona’s catty-corner neighbor shares quite a few similarities, namely a consistently strong Democratic challenger against an unpopular Republican incumbent. And here, we also see that John Hickenlooper has been outspending Cory Gardner online for almost the entire race, and Hickenlooper’s advertising looks like it’s going out strong.
In both their FB + Google advertising, the Hickenlooper campaign is hammering down on two issues: climate change and health care. They’re also deploying a popular incumbent Democrat – in this case, Gov. Jared Polis – in their ads, and they’re pointing these ads to young folks in the state, which is quite smart considering how Polis is a more progressive governor than Hickenlooper was during his tenure.
Also mirroring Arizona, Cory Gardner’s investment in digital ads has always been and is still very low. Their last FB ad, which only ran through Oct. 14, is a nationwide fundraising ad featuring Lindsay Graham. Their most recent FB ads actually targeting CO use the SCOTUS vacancy to fundraise, and are overwhelmingly targeted at seniors in the state.
And that’s it for this week! See any interesting posts or digital ads from Senate candidates that we missed? 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.