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.
Perhaps sensing that Donald Trump’s penchant for state violence might be a political liability for the Republican Party, Mitch McConnell this week attempted to show us that he can actually legislate by having Sen. Tim Scott introduce a police “reform” bill. However, McConnell’s attempt to clear his party’s image with this bill may be overshadowed by more drama out of the White House.
Meanwhile, the NRSC and Senate Republicans are starting to go on offense against their Democratic challengers with a suite of new TV ads going up in key races. But are these new tactics being reflected in their digital strategies as well? We take a look in this week’s The Senate FYI.
While Amy McGrath has been spending huge sums on digital + TV ads, insurgent Charles Booker has been picking up steam. He’s recently scored endorsements from grassroots groups like MoveOn, the Working Families Party, and Indivisible as well as several prominent Kentucky Democrats.
A Des Moines Register/Selzer & Co. poll, the gold standard for Iowa, found Theresa Greenfield running three percentage points ahead of Joni Ernst, 46-43. We also got another poll with Gary Peters up over John James by more than 10 points, and a recent PPP poll found Georgia’s regular Senate race was neck-and-neck with Jon Ossoff at 45 percent and David Perdue at 44 percent.
Steve Bullock’s campaign has put out their first TV ad this week, which they also started promoting on Facebook yesterday. It simply highlights the fact that he’s governor, that he’s independently bipartisan, and that he’s swearing off corporate PAC money.
As if presidential tweets weren’t enough to put down his former attorney general in Alabama’s Republican Senate primary, Trump is apparently holding a rally in Jeff Sessions’ hometown of Mobile next month to support Tommy Tuberville.
In other news of GOP intra-party drama, Kelly Loeffler posted a clip of Tucker Carlson attacking Doug Collins for defending tech giants from scrutiny, calling for a “vigorous primary challenge” against him.
Fresh off an outright primary win, Jon Ossoff seems to be only accelerating his digital ad spending. In the week before the June 9 primary, his campaign spent over $40k in Facebook + Google ads, and this past week he spent over $110k on the platforms.
In Georgia’s other Senate race, Raphael Warnock’s campaign seems to also be accelerating their spending, having spent over $68k on FB + Google ads last week. The only time they’ve spent more than that on digital ads was when they spent almost $100k after launching the campaign.
Here’s a look at how much campaigns in key states have spent on FB + Google ads so far this year:
It would appear that while the DSCC’s ad spending on FB + Google is generally on the rise, Senate Majority PAC’s spending seems to be scaling down, at least for now. They have, though, launched a new Facebook page to run ads from, dubbed Flip the Senate, as well as a corresponding microsite at flipthesenate.com. The NRSC’s spending on FB + Google is accelerating significantly, but more on that below.
For the first time this year, Thom Tillis’ campaign has outspent Cal Cunningham’s campaign in FB + Google ads. It appears that this is because Cunningham’s spending is generally plateauing for now while Tillis’ campaign is very slowly ramping up spending on the two platforms, especially on Google.
While the NRSC is going on the air with attack ads against Sara Gideon, John Hickenlooper, and Theresa Greenfield it would appear that only a couple of candidates are following suit and going on the offensive in their digital ads. Let’s take a look at this partial shift, starting with the NRSC.
Last week, we very briefly touched on the fact that the NRSC had set up digital campaigns against Sara Gideon, Mark Kelly, and Gary Peters with YouTube ads and corresponding microsites. Since then, their YouTube spending has expanded from almost nothing to over $150k in the past two weeks, and they’ve set up Facebook pages to run ads through that correspond with each of their offensive campaigns.
The pages – “Sara Gideon Facts,” “Big Money Mark Kelly,” and “Profiteering Peters” – all feature variations of the video ads we highlighted last week, but it appears that these pages are testing these video and static ads with hundreds of audience variations on both Facebook and Instagram. For example, this one video ad on the Sara Gideon Facts page was shown to 80 audience variations on Instagram. The test below leans toward middle-aged men, but others toward young women, some toward older women, etc.
Other ads on these pages cast just as wide a net and the content is just as outlandish. The below ad against Gary Peters was shown to 88 audience variations on Instagram. However, it seems that the NRSC hasn’t given as much gas to their anti-Kelly campaign – the below ad was only shown to three audiences on FB + IG, and Facebook’s ad library shows that the anti-Gideon and anti-Peters pages have gotten more investment as of right now. However, it should be noted that Martha McSally’s campaign has already been running offensive ads against Kelly for months on Facebook.
Quite a few Republican Senate candidates are focusing their digital advertising efforts on fundraising with Facebook ads, but a couple of them aren’t waiting until August to go on the offensive. Susan Collins’ campaign, in fact, is one of the few Senate campaigns of either party to have launched a second Facebook page through which to run ads, called Team Collins, and is using it to run all of their anti-Gideon Facebook ads, including one featuring one of Gideon’s primary opponents deriding her for skipping debates.
David Perdue, whose digital ad spending on Facebook + Google has been minimal throughout this cycle so far, launched a handful of pretty ridiculous ads against Ossoff the day after the Georgia Senate primary.
Eager to set the bar for absurdity, the NRSC revamped the Republicans’ anti-Ossoff website – jonossoff.com, which they’ve owned since 2017 – to include a ton of satirical content mirroring Perdue’s attacks against him as a “privileged liberal,” negative headlines for Ossoff, fake merch, and a fake essay praising Jar Jar Binks. Why? Presumably because Ossoff wore a Han Solo costume for Halloween once and pretend-fought a kid with toy lightsabers or something, but who knows with Republicans these days.
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.