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.
We’re now settling into the second month of a full-scale coronavirus pandemic in America. COVID-19 is claiming the lives of thousands of Americans, and the vast majority of us are under stay-at-home orders – but democracy never rests, and so candidates for the U.S. Senate are marching onward to Election Day.
This week, we take a look at how some of them are continuing to run digital ads on Facebook and Google that touch on some of the other issues affecting Americans’ lives.
With Sara Gideon’s digital spending still on pause, relatively speaking, Mark Kelly’s campaign is a hair away from being the biggest spender online among in this year’s competitive Senate races.
Most candidates, however, seem to have paused (or in some cases, have yet to ramp up to begin with) their digital spending. Of the 14 campaigns whose spending we track, only four – Mark Kelly, Sara Gideon, Gary Peters, and Steve Bullock – spent more than $20,000 on Facebook + Google ads last week.
While COVID-19 presents a novel threat to American society, there are obviously still plenty of other issues that impact our lives. Let’s take a look at how some candidates are running non-coronavirus ads online (spoiler alert: they’re fundraising).
Starting in Arizona, Mark Kelly’s campaign hasn’t let the pandemic slow down their paid digital juggernaut. Their digital fundraising and list-building ads continue to focus on their biggest issues: health care and campaign finance reform. Most recently, their ads have been video-first (and bilingual) or posturing Kelly as this superhero-esque figure. 🦸♂️
Martha McSally, on the other hand, hasn’t yet run a single ad on Facebook or Google so far this month, seemingly holding true to her word that she would suspend campaign activities for the first two weeks of April. While she did spend nearly $15,000 on Facebook + Google ads this past week, all of that seems to have been spent in the final days of March. These ads primarily recognize that Kelly currently has both a fundraising and a polling advantage.
In North Carolina, another race where, in terms of digital spending, the Democratic challenger is blowing the Republican incumbent out of the water without even seeming to break a sweat. Like McSally’s campaign, Cal Cunningham’s campaign hasn’t run any ads on Facebook so far this month (but they are running some basic Google Search ads).
Their most recent ads featured a different way to mobilize their team while social distancing – they featured different staff members making straight-to-camera fundraising appeals. Thom Tillis, on the other hand, has really only been running Google Search ads recently, and his campaign still hasn’t run a single ad on Facebook since JANUARY.
Moving up north to Maine, Sara Gideon’s campaign may not be running their digital ad onslaught for the time being, but they’re still consistently outspending Susan Collins’ campaign every week. Most recently, Gideon’s campaign used messages about healthcare, bipartisanship, and Larry Sabato changing the race to Toss-Up to try and get some small-dollar donations, including a straight-to-camera video from the candidate herself. 🤳Susan Collins, meanwhile, is still only running a couple of coronavirus-related ads on Facebook and basic Google Search ads.
In Georgia, while the Democratic primaries are still relatively splintered, David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler are very much on the same page, and they have a drumbeat to boot: “the road to socialism will not run through Georgia.”
Loeffler’s campaign has been using that line in her ads and her social media feeds since Bernie Sanders was briefly the frontrunner earlier this year, and it doesn’t look like they plan on stopping using his image to scare voters. David Perdue’s campaign has now gone up with a new YouTube ad decrying socialism and the Green New Deal. We’re actually quite surprised to see the Perdue campaign pursue this paid media tactic, considering this is the first time they’ve touched the platform since January.
Finally, in Colorado, Cory Gardner and John Hickenlooper spent nearly the same amount on digital ads this past week, which is a bit unusual considering the pace at which Hickenlooper’s campaign was spending online in previous weeks. For the most part, the former governor’s campaign continued to use his straight-to-camera videos to fundraise, but they also put out some rapid-response video ads.
And that’s it for this week! See any 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.