The Senate midterm starting lines

Democrats continue to dominate early digital spending, as GOP rivals struggle to take off

With the 2021 elections in the rearview mirror, it’s full speed ahead to the 2022 midterms - which are officially less than a year away. History tells us that it’s going to be a bloodbath for Democrats up and down the ballot (as it almost always is for the President’s party) but early signs show that at least in the battle for the U.S. Senate, Democrats may be starting on firm footing.

How are Senate campaigns in the most competitive states gearing up and positioning themselves one year out from Election Day? We’ll take a look. 

But first…


A new issue of Campaigner just dropped

In this week’s Campaigner newsletter, we spoke with Democratic communications expert & former Pete for America Deputy Campaign Manager Hari Sevugan. He shared advice for breaking into politics, how Democrats should counter Republican attacks, and what he and his team learned from Pete’s run for President. Read & subscribe here >>


By the numbers

FWIW, here were the top political ad spenders on Facebook and Instagram last week: 

For the past several weeks, Republicans and conservative groups have led ad spending on Meta platforms. One notable new spender: After Friday’s passage of the bipartisan infrastructure bill, Koch-backed Americans for Prosperity launched a new wave of ads turning up the pressure on Sens. Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema to abandon the Democrats’ larger social spending package. 

For months, Illinois Governor JB Pritzker has been one of the top spenders nationwide on Facebook ads - even though his election is a year away. His campaign has spent over $2.7 million on Facebook + Google since July, and they’re just getting started. Read more here on how Pritzker’s spending early, often, and online. 

Speaking of Facebook, the company continues to dominate headlines with policy changes and generally bad PR. This week, our friends at Accountable Tech created FacebookPapers.com, a searchable database of coverage around the companies recent leaked documents. Check it out!

Meanwhile, here’s what political ad spending looked like on Google + YouTube last week:

The majority of last week’s Google/YouTube spending reflects the final days of the 2021 elections in Virginia and New Jersey. However, we saw the NRSC launched a new wave of nationwide YouTube ads hammering the issue of immigration - talking up “Biden’s border crisis” and falsely stating that “millions of illegal immigrants are flooding into America.” 


The Senate midterm starting lines

With the 2021 elections in the rearview mirror, it’s full speed ahead to the 2022 midterms. While history (and the pundits) would tell us that it’s going to be a bloodbath for Democrats, we’ve watched Democratic U.S. Senate candidates in the off-year build robust, grassroots campaigns that could give them what they need to win next year. As these Democrats in competitive states have spent millions of dollars on fundraising and list-building this year, Republicans were pretty much nowhere to be found. 

The TLDR:

  • In nearly every battleground U.S. Senate race, Democratic candidates far outpace their GOP rivals in Facebook, Google ad spending

  • Top issues for Dems: Supporting small business relief, lowering prescription drugs, voting rights, stopping Mitch McConnell, abortion rights

  • Top issues for Republicans: Border security, stopping big tech censorship, supporting Trump, “Red wave”/ending Dem control of Congress 

Pennsylvania: Since March, Lt. Governor John Fetterman has been one of the top candidate ad spenders nationwide on Facebook. He’s swamped his rivals on both sides of the aisle in online spending, in hopes of consolidating grassroots Dem dollars ahead of a competitive Democratic primary. Here’s how much candidates for U.S. Senate in PA have spent on Facebook and Google advertising since March:

It’s hard to overstate how much we love Fetterman’s fundraising ads, which are about as authentic as they come:

On the Republican side, neither Jeff Bartos or Trump-endorsed domestic abuser Sean Parnell have ramped up their online campaigns yet. Dissatisfied with their bench, Republicans may even turn to Dr. Oz. 

Arizona: After winning his election in 2020 by a narrow margin, Senator Mark Kelly never stopped campaigning. Unfortunately already up for re-election next year, his campaign operation knows what they have to do to maintain momentum and win again in the midterms. Here’s what Facebook + Google ad spending looks like in that race:

Kelly’s campaign hasn’t just spent all that money on fundraising ads, either. They’re boosting news and promoting videos on Facebook that underscore his policy wins for Arizonans - including lowering drug costs and providing relief to small businesses. 

Georgia: Like Kelly in Arizona, Sen. Raphael Warnock is already up for re-election, and has been spending heavily on Facebook and Google fundraising ads all year. The dynamic of that race recently shifted, when Trump-backed Herschel Walker declared his candidacy and immediately began ramping up his campaign. 

As far as we’ve seen, Walker’s ads have been exclusively for fundraising, highlighting a “red wave” coming and sharing his support for the “American Dream.”

Wisconsin: There’s at least a three-way race to take on Sen. Ron Johnson, and each of the Democratic campaigns are already spending moderately online to get primary voters in their corner. Here’s the breakdown:

While all three campaigns are using Ron Johnson as a boogeyman to raise cash from Democrats nationwide, we thought it was interesting that Milwaukee Bucks executive Alex Lasry is paying to promote his commentary and policy views on news articles:

NH, FL, NC, OH: We’re also keeping a close eye on spending in several other states that will be key to keeping or capturing the Senate majority next year. In New Hampshire, Florida, North Carolina, and Ohio, Democrats are outspending their Republican rivals by quite a bit. Val Demings in Florida is a top spender nationwide on digital ads. Sen. Maggie Hassan in New Hampshire is running a robust campaign, and now both of her top rivals chose to take a pass on running against her. The Republican primary in Ohio’s Senate race is messy enough to give Tim Ryan a real chance of winning. And in North Carolina, Democrats Jeff Jackson and Cheri Beasley are outspending their GOP rivals 2:1. 

At the end of the day, each of these Senate races will cost in the tens of millions of dollars and will be fought on shifting news cycles that we can’t predict this far out. While these current levels of off-year online investment may be just a drop in the bucket, they are important to understand which campaigns are already up and running at full steam, and which are struggling to get their operations off the ground. In that regard, Democrats have a clear advantage - let’s hope they don’t squander it.