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.
Donald Trump, Mitch McConnell, and their GOP are more than happy to undermine America’s faith in its institutions for as much countermajoritarian power as possible, America has now found itself in yet another divisive crisis following the sudden passing of the Notorious Ruth Bader Ginsburg. May she rest in power.
Just like in 2018, this Supreme Court fight has thrown an enormous wrench in this year’s already contentious Senate races as vulnerable Republican incumbents face dueling pressures from the general public and from their base. In this week’s Senate FYI, we look at how some campaigns have already started moving on this issue in their digital ads and social content.
We also know that Mike Espy in Mississippi raised over $1 million in the weekend following RBG’s passing. To put that into perspective, Espy raised $1.4 million…in the first 18 months of his campaign.
A couple ofnewpolls out of Georgia this week indicate that Raphael Warnock might be gaining some ground in the final weeks before the Georgia special election primary on Nov. 3. The polls also found a very tight race between Jon Ossoff and David Perdue.
Nearly every Democratic candidate in competitive Senate races reached new heights of digital ad spending last week, with many of them breaking spending records that they had set only just last week. For example, Gary Peters’ campaign spent about $525k on FB + Google ads in the past month, while they had only spent $737k in the preceding eight months.
The parties’ super PACs are also spending record amounts so far this year on FB + Google ads, with both Senate Majority PAC and Senate Leadership spending about $500k on the platforms last week. It looks almost all of this spending from both groups is being spent on attack ads, but among SLF’s recent spending last week included $13k on FB targeting Kansans to attack Barbara Bollier.
SMP has also started running ads through a new Spanish-language FB page called “Juntos Somos Más” (essentially “Stronger Together”) which is for now just running ads against Cory Gardner targeted at young Coloradans.
Unlike the previous week, a few Democratic campaigns shifted gears last week to spend more of their FB ad dollars on out-of-state fundraising + acquisition, and we have good reason to believe that these campaigns did so to tap into the waterfall of cash that flowed in the hours after RBG’s passing.
Take Mark Kelly’s campaign for example. They haven’t yet run any SCOTUS-focused ads on FB, but on Saturday alone they spent $84k on the platform – and just under $5k was targeted at Arizonans. Similarly, Jaime Harrison’s campaign spent over $238k on FB ads on Saturday alone, but only about $25k of that went to ads targeting SC.
With only 40 days left until Election Day, Senate candidates have very little room to maneuver on this incredibly consequential issue – especially so for incumbent Republicans, since 6 in 10 Americans don’t want RBG’s seat to be filled before the election.
Among the most competitive Senate races, there are only two in which neither candidate has yet to incorporate the SCOTUS vacancy into their digital messaging outside of formal statements: Iowa and Maine. So let’s take a look at what’s going on in some of the other big races.
In Arizona, we have a particularly important race because the winner will be sworn in to office in time to cast votes during the lame duck session. Earlier, we mentioned that Mark Kelly has yet to run any digital ads concerning the vacancy, and he hasn’t put out any organic content around it either aside from a formal statement, at least that we’ve seen.
Martha McSally, on the other hand, isn’t hesitating, and no wonder – she’s been polling behind the president basically the entire race so far. Like most campaigns at the moment, her ads on the issue have been restricted to FB so far, and it looks like for now they’re just testing fundraising ads on the topic, mostly among older Americans.
While Kelly, Sara Gideon, and Theresa Greenfield have yet to put out digital ads or content, some Democrats running for Senate are diving right into this issue. Among them are Ossoff and Warnock in Georgia, who both have not hesitated to test out ads + content of their own.
Ossoff is spending about $1k on an otherwise innocuous national fundraising ad, and his campaign has also put out a viral clip that contrasts David Perdue’s justifications for blocking Garland in 2016 against his milquetoast justifications for going back on his word today.
Warnock is running more ads that address the SCOTUS vacancy, but like his counterpart in Georgia’s other Senate race, the reverend only mentions the Court in the copy of otherwise conventional fundraising ads. The targeting on these tend to focus on middle-aged and older Georgians.
Two Democratic candidates who have appeared quite confident in their chances of winning, John Hickenlooper and Gary Peters, are more explicitly running fundraising ads around the vacancy. However, while Peters is for now just running the below ad alongside others more in the style of Ossoff’s and Warnock’s – all overwhelmingly targeting older Michiganders – Hickenlooper’s ads are more varied. Interestingly, though, Hick’s ads that visually feature Gardner are targeted mostly at Coloradans, while the ads featuring just the former governor are targeted nationwide.
As for the other Republicans, only those whose political brands have become inseparable from the president’s – like McSally, Daines, Kelly Loeffler, and Doug Collins – have started running digital ads addressing the SCOTUS vacancy as of now.
Among them, of course, is Lindsey Graham, whose campaign has spent tens of thousands of dollars on FB ads (and some more implicit YouTube ads featuring a shoutout from the boss) on the issue. They’ve spent just a few hundred dollars on these two SC-targeted ads, one of which appears to be just promoting his tweeted statement. They did target the latter ad to older South Carolinians, which is a bold choice unless some of his constituents have microscopes for eyes.
Finally, coming back to Georgia, Collins continues to race to the right as quickly as possible as indicated by the fact that he’s running at least a dozen fundraising ads advocating for filling the seat ASAP to overturn Roe v. Wade. However, Loeffler’s campaign seems to be taking the cautious route and is only running the one ad concerning the vacancy, even though they apparently had no problem positively comparing her to Attila the Hun.
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.