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.
After a year and a half with Amy McGrath as the presumed nominee to take on Mitch McConnell, the Kentucky Democratic Senate primary suddenly became much more competitive in the lead-up to Election Day. After Louisville police murdered Breonna Taylor in March and came away with hardly a slap on the wrist for it, progressive Charles Booker’s campaign presented a strong, last-minute surprise challenge in the primary.
As of this writing, the results of this primary are in flux and likely won’t be final until next week. In this week’s Senate FYI we’ll take a quick look at how each candidate advertised online + how this race changed in the final stretch.
Kris Kobach’s campaign ran their first Facebook ad since officially launching earlier this month, and of all the things they could have started with, they decided to criticize the Supreme Court for granting LGBTQ+ Americans equality in the workplace. In the ad, they specifically engaged in disgusting transphobic rhetoric, saying that young trans athletes “are destroying the athletic dreams of our daughters.” 🤬
One Nation, a right-wing 501(c)4 nonprofit run by Karl Rove, is out with a slew of Facebook ads supporting Joni Ernst, Steve Daines, Thom Tillis, and Martha McSally to the tune of about $10k, for now. They’ve also started running YouTube ads supporting primarily Martha McSally, but some of these ads use a map that appears to also lump neighboring Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan in with China.
Here’s how much the candidates in seven key Senate races have spent so far this year:
The parties’ Senate campaign committees are continuing their large spending trends on Facebook and Google. Notably, though, the NRSC is out with a new ad against Gary Peters, and they’re apparently back to calling the senator “Jerry” again. 🙄
For the first time this year, Thom Tillis’ campaign has spent more on FB + Google ads than Cal Cunningham’s. But since that’s likely only due to a modest increase from Tillis’ camp and a temporary slowdown from the Cunningham campaign, we have our eyes on another digital ad spending trend.
In Texas, where MJ Hegar and Royce West have been investing minimally on digital ads in the run-up so far to the July 14 primary runoff, John Cornyn’s campaign is accelerating their digital paid media spending. For most of the year, the Cornyn campaign had only spent more than $10k in FB + Google ads in one week once, back in April. However, their spending has steadily increased from $12k in mid-May to over $40k last week, primarily driven by fundraising Facebook ads featuring Cornyn, Trump Jr., Ted Cruz, and Karl Rove.
Over the course of a short few weeks, Kentucky’s Democratic Senate primary went from a formality for Amy McGrath to a tight race between her and unabashed progressive Charles Booker. Let’s take a look at how the campaigns changed their digital ad tactics in the run-up to this week’s election. For reference, here’s how the two candidates’ digital spending changed from week to week since Breonna Taylor was murdered on March 13.
It’s well known that the McGrath campaign spent a lot of money to make a lot of money by running ads both online and on TV nationwide, and for the majority of this cycle so far, that seemed to be the primary goal of their Facebook ads. They used a pretty wide array of video + static creative assets to fundraise, but since they spent so much nationwide every week, chances are you may have seen something like the one below out in the wild yourself.
Charles Booker’s campaign, on the other hand, started out primarily with a series of no-frills straight-to-camera fundraising asks. Like McGrath’s campaign, these were targeted nationally, but obviously at a much, much smaller scale since the Booker campaign rarely spent more than $5k on FB ads in a given week until May.
But as Booker’s campaign really started to pick up steam, it looks like both campaigns started to diversify their digital ads on both Facebook and Google. Starting in May, the McGrath campaign started running localized voter education ads, experimented with boosting local newspaper endorsements, ran some programmatic ads through Google, and more. Notably, the McGrath campaign didn’t run a single digital ad targeting Booker.
The Booker campaign had no such reservation, as they ran several ads on both platforms criticizing McGrath for being a “pro-Trump Democrat.” Moreover, they ran a whole bunch of ads including a straight-to-camera ad from Bernie Sanders, videos from his speech at a protest in Louisville, voter education and advocacy, and more. They also started running YouTube + Google search ads for the first time in mid-May with this positive ad, some fundraising Google search ads, and their ad criticizing McGrath for not attending any protests.
We’ll see how the race shakes out next week when final results should come streaming in.
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.