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.
The police murders of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and George Floyd, the mass protests that followed, and the simultaneous public health and economic crises may have triggered a breaking point in American opinion about systemic racism.
In a political moment that seems to be changing by the hour, how are candidates running for U.S. Senate – a chamber that overrepresents white, rural Americans – in key states talking to voters in their digital outreach about systemic racism and police violence? In this week’s Senate FYI, we take a look.
After a hot, oppressive mess of an election in Georgia, Jon Ossoff has won the Democratic Senate primary. In doing so, he avoids a runoff that would have otherwise dragged the election into August. The NRSC gave us a quick preview of their general election angle on Twitter shortly after the race call.
Most candidates in key swing states have now spent well more than $100k on FB + Google ads so far in 2020, with the usual exception of Thom Tillis, who is only just now, with 145 days to go until Election Day, starting to make a meaningful investment in digital ads. Meanwhile, Steve Daines is continuing to spend at an incredible pace, and if he keeps this up he may single-handedly make this race one of the most expensive of the bunch in terms of digital ad buys.
With less than five months to go, the NRSC launched its opening volley on YouTube with dozens of attack ads worth at least $68,800 after months of practically neglecting the platform. The ads primarily go after Sara Gideon and Gary Peters, and to a lesser degree Mark Kelly. They’ve also set up alliterative microsites for their new campaigns against Gideon and Peters: gamblingongideon.com and profiteeringpeters.com.
This week we want to draw special attention to South Carolina’s Senate race, where Jaime Harrison spent over $560,000 on FB + Google ads alone last week. His campaign has been spending close to $100,000 on digital ads each week for the past couple of months, and Lindsey Graham’s campaign has been spending nearly as much, but this is still simply astronomical at this stage. According to our records, no one else so far this year, not even the party Senate committees or PACs, have spent that much on FB + Google ads in one week.
It seems that while most Democratic candidates have yet to incorporate anything related to those issues into their digital ad campaigns, a couple of Republicans have. Predictably, their ads don’t talk about police reform, and they definitely don’t address systemic racism, oh no: they’re list building off of Antifa and activists’ call to defund the police.
In some of their most recent Facebook ads, Kelly Loeffler’s campaign makes a call to “dismantle” Antifa, whatever that means. But Doug Collins was actually first out the gate with FB ads on the issue, with ads agreeing with Trump that Antifa should be labeled a terrorist organization and to keep funding the police, saying “Radical liberals are trying to destroy our police departments which will create lawlessness in America!” In Arizona, Martha McSally’s campaign makes a pitch similar to Collins’ but with a special shout-out to AOC and Ilhan Omar. 🙄
Most candidates chose to make their solidarity, or lack thereof, with Black Lives Matter activists and supporters known via social media. A quick advanced search of all the candidates’ Twitter feeds gives us a pretty clear picture of how they’re approaching the situation: Democrats are standing in solidarity with protesters while Republicans have mainly focused on deriding looters and exacerbating cases of violence, if they’ve said anything at all.
The Democrats who marched in protests over the past couple of weeks include Sara Gideon with her very own BLM sign, Cal Cunningham, Raphael Warnock in front of the historic Ebenezer Baptist Church, and Jon Ossoff with local pastors.
Meanwhile, not one of the Republican U.S. Senate candidates has so much as uttered the phrase Black Lives Matter on social media. In fact, the most recent mention of the word racism from any of the GOP candidates in competitive races comes from John Cornyn, who quoted Bill Barr in saying that “there is no systemic racism in policing.” So there’s that.
Cory Gardner said literally nothing on social media – there’s a gap in both his Twitter and Facebook feeds between May 27 and June 3, when protests were at their most intense. Steve Daines also declined to comment on social media, but continued to post about other issues.
Susan Collins invoked MLK Jr. to call for peaceful protesting. 🤬 McSally decried the murder of George Floyd and then derided “the looting and the violence.” Thom Tillis and Joni Ernst took a similar approach in their minuscule statements. One unique exception to this trend of general avoidance is Kelly Loeffler, who seems to be going full ham with her anti-Antifa platform (and peep those sweet, sweet ratios).
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.