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.
Democrats now have a wide path to flipping the Senate, with the most likely route going through Arizona, Colorado, Maine, and North Carolina. As the cycle has progressed, Democratic candidates have also become competitive in Iowa, Georgia, and Montana. With fewer than 40 days to go, the path might be wider still, with three more conservative-leaning states coming into play: Alaska, which we dove into a couple weeks ago, South Carolina, and Kansas!
This week we’re going to continue our deep dive into the state of each of these digital races. In this week’s Senate FYI, we’re kicking off with a look at the Sunflower State.
Piedmont Rising, a progressive group in North Carolina, is spending $2M on ads against Sen. Thom Tillis for rushing to confirm a conservative Supreme Court nominee to take away healthcare.
Demand Justice, a liberal group focused on judicial reform, is launching a seven-figure ad buy nationally and in Iowa, Arizona, North Carolina, and Colorado. The ads will focus on the Supreme Court fight.
Two Democratic candidates began advertising on Snapchat last week: Jaime Harrison, who spent $20k, and Mark Kelly, who spent $11k.
Nearly all of the Democratic Senate candidates in the most competitive races have increased their spending on digital this past week. Most have already outspent their Republican opponents by wide margins, with the exception of Steve Bullock – but far more of Bullock’s ad dollars are actually reaching voters in Montana, compared to Steve Daines’ campaign targeting out of state donors.
Democratic and Republican super PACs are also spending a significant amount on digital, with the DSCC outspending the NRSC by almost double. Just last week, DSCC + Senate Majority PAC spent $2.8 million on FB + Google ads, while NRSC + Senate Leadership Fund only spent $903k in the same period.
Several Democratic campaigns in key races seem to still be focused more on out-of-state spending as they were last week, presumably due to many of them attempting to tap into the grassroots energy unleashed by the new SCOTUS vacancy. Notably, Mark Kelly’s campaign is spending nearly all of their Facebook ads this week on out-of-state, spending only $63,169 in-state compared to $702,174 out-of-state.
One other note before we get into Kansas: last week, every single Democratic campaign in every mildly competitive race – with the exception of MJ Hegar in TX – outspent their Republican opponents online. We don’t know if this trend will continue into Election Day, but we’re really excited to see that these campaigns aren’t leaving anything on the table.
Kansas definitely leans Republican on the Presidential level, but the Senate race this year is turning out to be much closer than some expected. A recent Data for Progress poll found that the race was at a 42/42 tie, and internals from both campaigns indicate a very close race.
Of Republican-leaning states, Kansas still has some elasticity because of a significant population of moderate Republican voters. They’re the ones who were instrumental in electing their current Democratic governor over Kris Kobach in 2018, and their support will be required for either Barbara Bollier or Roger Marshall to secure this open Senate seat.
Possibly playing in Bollier’s favor is the fact that, in 2018, Bollier changed her party affiliation from Republican to Democrat, because she felt that the Republican party no longer represented her values in regards to education, healthcare, and LGBTQ+ rights. Several of her ads highlight her bipartisan background and the bipartisan support that she’s received as a candidate.
When it comes to digital ads, Bollier has so far spent more on Google than on Facebook. The former of those include Search fundraising ads targeted at Kansans and persuasion ads on YouTube that attack Marshall, but most of her new YT ads positively define Bollier. Most of these persuasion ads target specific groups of counties in the state.
On Facebook, Bollier’s persuasion ads either highlight her moderate record or attack Roger Marshall for not taking the coronavirus pandemic more seriously.
Roger Marshall, for his part, isn’t running a whole lot of Google ads either. His campaign has so far only spent $21.1k on the platform, and outside of one pro-Marshall YT ad, they’ve only been running fundraising Search ads on the platform since Marshall won the primary.
However, the Marshall campaign appears to be investing most of its digital ad dollars into Facebook. Many of his ads are anti-Bollier persuasion ads, and are focused on hitting her on policy disagreements and calling her “too liberal” for Kansas.
He’s also run several ads against Bollier on abortion, which tend to be targeted toward older individuals in Kansas. And, like many other Republican candidates for Senate, he’s also running fundraising ads nationwide that focus on keeping the Senate majority.
Outside groups spending in the state tend to be Republican or conservative outside groups focused on discrediting Bollier. Two of the top spenders over the last three months on Facebook targeting Kansas –AFP Action and the Senate Leadership Fund – are running ads that stretch the truth about Bollier’s beliefs and policies in regard to things like abortion and health care.
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.