Trump Casts Wide TV-Ad Net to Shore Up Support
| le 10 July 2020
Campaign is advertising in states he easily won in 2016 as aides acknowledge they face a tougher path than they anticipated six months ago
By John McCormick and
Catherine Lucey – The Wall Street Journal
President Trump’s re-election campaign is advertising in three states he easily won in 2016, as well as two others that appear tougher for him to capture, as polls suggest he may have a narrower path to the White House than four years ago.
Ad dollars are flowing into Iowa, Ohio and Georgia—states he won by 5 percentage points or more—as Mr. Trump trails presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden in most battleground-state and national polling and navigates a pandemic and race-relations debate.
President Trump’s campaign and the topsuper political action committee backing himspent more on broadcast TV ads in thesecond quarter of 2020 than former VicePresident Joe Biden’s campaign and his topallies.
Trump campaign aides said they remain optimistic, but privately acknowledge they are dealing with a tougher path to re-election than they anticipated six months ago, as some states they knew would be battlegrounds, such as Michigan, appear hard to hold, and others, like Iowa, are more competitive than expected.
Still, an incumbent president spending in states he easily won isn’t a new strategy—President Obama did the same in 2012. A campaign official said the advertising moves shouldn’t be viewed as signs of weakness, saying the Trump team has ample resources to make all the ad buys needed and isn’t taking states for granted.
The official also highlighted nationwide cable and network-TV buys, as well as spending “on Joe Biden’s turf.”
The campaign is also spending in Nevada and Minnesota, both states narrowly won by Democrat Hillary Clinton in 2016. Nevada is classified in the presidential race as “likely Democrat” and Minnesota as “lean Democrat” by the nonpartisan Cook Political Report.
“We have enough money and will continue to defend the states the president won the last time and the states where he was close,” the Trump campaign official said.
Mr. Trump and the top super political-action committee backing him spent an estimated $31.5 million on broadcast TV ads nationally in June, while Mr. Biden’s campaign and the top super PAC backing him spent a combined $8.8 million, data from ad-tracking company Kantar/CMAG shows.
The Phoenix TV market received the most advertising from the Trump campaign during that month, seeing roughly 1 in 15 spots aired nationwide. Mr. Trump won Arizona by 3.5 percentage points in 2016, but Democrats are aggressively competing there in hopes of winning a state that hasn’t backed a Democrat for president since 1996.
Polling averages for some of the states wherePresident Trump’s campaign spent onbroadcast TV ads in second quarter of 2020
Mr. Trump is trailing Mr. Biden in most polls in the states where both sides are paying the closest attention: Arizona, Florida, Michigan, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. All are considered able to swing toward either candidate and are rich in Electoral College votes.
“Frantically defending states he comfortably won four years ago isn’t a sign of strength for Donald Trump, it’s the result of a campaign that is only speaking to its base, isn’t expanding their support and continues to hemorrhage votes,” Biden spokesman T.J. Ducklo said. “The Biden campaign is on offense. We’re running ads in six states that went red in 2016.”
Although Mr. Trump won Iowa by 9.4 percentage points in 2016, the Des Moines area ranked in the top half for the number of spots aired among the 43 markets where his campaign spent on broadcast TV in June, the Kantar/CMAG data shows.
Mr. Trump registered a lead in Iowa of just 1 percentage point in a June survey conducted by the state’s top pollster. Republican Sen. Joni Ernst, who has closely aligned herself with the president, trailed Democratic challenger Theresa Greenfield by 3 percentage points in that poll, published by the Des Moines Register.
While large national Democratic groups haven’t advertised in the presidential race in Iowa for the general election, a competitive Senate race there may give them more incentive to do so.
Longtime Iowa Republican operative Doug Gross said he thinks the incumbent is the favorite there, but predicted it would be close.
“I think you’d have to say he’s favored in Iowa given that he won it by a bigger margin than he won Texas last time. But it’s much more competitive than it was last time,” Mr. Gross said. “I think the president is spending money because he knows he needs to hold it.”
A campaign official projected optimism that Mr. Trump would win Iowa but acknowledged more work was under way in the state than was expected earlier this year.
A recent Fox News poll in Georgia, which hasn’t backed a Democrat for president since Bill Clinton’s first win in 1992, had Mr. Biden with a two-percentage-point advantage in a state Mr. Trump won by 5.1 points. The Cook Political Report this week moved Georgia from “lean Republican” to “toss up” in its battleground-state categorization.
In Ohio—which Mr. Trump won by 8.1 percentage points, the widest margin there for a Republican nominee in three decades—a Quinnipiac University survey during the second half of June had Mr. Biden up by 1 percentage point.
So far, neither Mr. Biden’s campaign nor the top super PAC backing him, Priorities USA, has run general-election broadcast TV ads in Iowa, Georgia or Ohio.
“These are places where Democrats haven’t really spent anything,” said Guy Cecil, chairman of Priorities USA. “They [the Republicans] are being forced to defend a lot more territory than Joe Biden will.”
For most of the election cycle, Iowa has been on the watch list for Priorities USA, which has a $200 million budget planned for the election.
“We look at how these states look, one compared to another,” Mr. Cecil said. “Iowa has pretty consistently been that next state, after the six states that get the most attention.”
The Des Moines area accounted for 2.6% of the almost 40,000 local broadcast TV spots aired by the Trump campaign during June. Ads in the Ohio markets of Cleveland, Columbus and Cincinnati combined accounted for 2.3% of the total, while those in the Georgia markets of Atlanta, Savannah, Augusta, Albany and Macon combined represented about 1%.
The Trump campaign appears poised to continue spending on broadcast TV in Ohio. Ad buys already in place for after Labor Day show it plans to spend $18.4 million in the state, second only to the $37.8 million booked so far for Florida.
Scott Jennings, who was Republican Mitt Romney’s Ohio state director for the 2012 presidential campaign, played down the significance of Mr. Trump running ads in the state.
“Did Barack Obama in 2012 not run ads in states he won in 2008? Of course he did,” Mr. Jennings said. “As an incumbent president, you have the money to play everywhere.”
Mr. Trump’s re-election effort ended May with $265 million in the bank. Mr. Biden’s campaign and the Democratic National Committee had less than half as much cash on hand at the end of the month, but the presumptive nominee has been recording strong fundraising recently.
Mr. Jennings, who periodically talks to Trump campaign representatives, said the incumbent’s operation feels comfortable about Ohio.
“They feel like his issue set and general disposition plays well here,” he said. “They feel pretty confident about the ground game and have had people on the ground for a year.”