The lopsided battle for the Senate majority

Dem candidates, DSCC outspending GOP counterparts online by more than 8:1

With an evenly split Senate, either party just needs to net one seat in next year’s midterm elections to gain a majority in the chamber. Campaigns have already launched; millions of dollars are being raised (and spent); and at least online, there’s only one side on the field. 👀 

Collectively, Democrats in critical Senate battlegrounds have already invested *millions* of dollars this year in digital ads to gear up their campaigns, while the NRSC and Republican candidates are lagging far behind. More on that in this week’s FWIW. 

But first...

By the numbers:

Here’s how much political campaigns & issue advocacy groups spent on Google advertising last week:

If that table looks ridiculous to you, well… it is. Spending 10X more than the next highest advertiser, the DSCC drastically increased their online ad spending in the past week, launching what appears to be their biggest online acquisition campaign since the final weeks of the 2020 elections. They’ve once again deployed Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Stacey Abrams in their ads, using the classic “WAIT! Before you scroll away…” tactic before going into how Republicans are pulling America to “Jim Crow 2.0”. 

VA Gubernatorial candidate Terry McAuliffe also spent quite a bit last week ahead of Tuesday night’s primary election. Read more about how that race went down in this week’s issue of FWIW Virginia. 

Progressive nonprofit Sixteen Thirty Fund is also back to running Google ads, this time targeting Washington, D.C. with a pair of ads about immigration reform and abolishing the filibuster. It does appear that they’re trying to reach Democratic lawmakers and aides directly with the latter ad, judging by their extremely specific geo-targeting of Capitol Hill. 🤔 We guess targeting Joe Manchin’s houseboat wasn’t an option. 

… and here are the top 10 political advertisers on Facebook & Instagram last week:

In one of the first large outside campaigns supporting the American Jobs Plan, the League of Conservation Voters launched a million-dollar effort supporting President Biden’s huge infrastructure package. They spent nearly $170,000 on Facebook ads targeting constituents of swing district House members and Senators in 17 key states - including Arizona, Florida, Georgia, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin - arguing specifically for the “good-paying clean energy jobs” the AJP could generate.

Also on Facebook this week: While we were doing our usual digging through the political ad database, we noticed several anti-vaccine advertisements had been launched recently by a pro-Trump merch site. Last fall, Facebook made a big deal out of banning such ads, but like most other sweeping policies from the social media giant, enforcement is typically lacking. After we flagged the ads on Twitter, Facebook’s team ultimately removed them from the platform. 💪    

FWIW, here are the top political advertisers on Snapchat since the conclusion of the Georgia runoff elections:

Digital ad spending isn’t everything, but...

We started FWIW in 2018 to sound the alarm about then-President Trump’s and the GOP’s dominance in early online ad spending. Now, if current trends are any indication, the situation has reversed: so far this year, Democratic candidates in key Senate races and the DSCC have outspent their Republican candidates online nearly 8:1. 🤯 Here’s how that spending breaks down:

*This chart captures spending by the DSCC, NRSC, and declared candidates running for U.S. Senate in AZ, FL, GA, NH, NV, NC, OH, PA, and WI. Political ads did not run before March 6th.

Spending at this stage is almost exclusively fundraising and acquisition, as campaigns have to spend money to make money. Candidates in competitive primaries especially need to quickly build a list of potential supporters and start bringing in cash to hire staff and build out a robust campaign apparatus. 

Driving Democrats’ very large investments in digital ads are Val Demings, John Fetterman, Mark Kelly, and Raphael Warnock, all four of whom have spent at least $425,000 on Facebook and Google ads so far this year. Incumbent Sens. Kelly and Warnock in particular have been investing heavily in digital ads practically since the day after they won their respective elections. 

Kelly is using the Grand Canyon, his twin brother Scott, and his wife, Gabby Giffords, to collect emails and raise money for his “people-powered campaign,” while Warnock is invoking President Biden’s performance and the GOP’s recent voter suppression bills. Both campaigns’ fundraising ads are overwhelmingly targeted to older Americans nationwide, with Kelly’s ads apparently putting a particular focus on women over 65. Kelly is also the only senator other than Chuck Schumer who’s spent any money on Snapchat ads, spending $1,550 so far on ads urging lawmakers to take action on climate change.

Most recently, Fetterman has been leaning on Pride Month, his wife Gisele, and progressive antipathy toward Joe Manchin to fundraise, and Demings launched a huge Facebook ad campaign on the day her Senate campaign launched. On June 9th, her campaign launched dozens and dozens of fundraising and email acquisition ads, almost all of which have a simple through-line: “Chip in/add your name to defeat Marco Rubio!” 

The biggest spenders among Republican candidates in swing states are businessmen Jim Lamon in Arizona and Jeff Bartos in Pennsylvania, who have respectively spent $94,082 and $66,681 on digital ads so far this year. Lamon started his digital ad campaigns on YouTube in early April with a campaign launch ad leaning into his experience as a solar energy company exec (using “POWER” six times in 30 seconds). 

However, his more recent digital ads are much more MAGA-y and take a hard-right, dog-whistling stance on immigration. It also appears that Lamon is trying to reach DJT on his favorite network by advertising on Fox News in and around Trump's Bedminster golf club.

Bartos’ ads similarly try to talk directly to Fox News viewers in Pennsylvania, with rhetoric like “Keep Marxism out of the Military,” “Ban Lockdowns Forever,” “Biden’s Border Crisis,” and “Keep Critical Race Theory Out of Schools.” If this seems radical, keep in mind that the GOP itself is using the exact same rhetoric, especially on critical race theory, in its own Facebook ads.

Finally, if you joked last year that the guy who got more than 15 seconds of fame from pointing an assault rifle at protestors in Missouri would run for office, you may now collect your prize. Mark McCloskey’s Senate campaign has already spent over $40,000 on Facebook ads and $6,200 on Google ads, and they practically copy word-for-word Trump’s inflammatory anti-protestor ads from last year.

That’s it for FWIW this week! We’ll be keeping a close eye on all of these Senate races as they develop, so check back next week for more data on who’s up and who’s down. If you enjoyed reading this newsletter, help us grow our reach! Please share your thoughts on Twitter, or forward this email to three friends!