California’s Senate race sparks an online gold rush
Two Democratic digital fundraising behemoths face off in the Golden State
Democrats face a challenging Senate map next year, with a half dozen incumbents in “red” or “purple” states seeking re-election. Those battleground races will naturally see tens of millions of dollars spent on advertising before November - but so too will solidly blue California, where a few ambitious Democrats are eager to claim the seat of retiring Sen. Dianne Feinstein.
In this week’s FWIW, we’ll break down how two Democratic party all-stars (and their consultants) are raising and spending millions of dollars online to be the Golden State’s next U.S. Senator
By the numbers
FWIW, political advertisers spent $6.4 million on Facebook and Instagram ads last week. These were the top ten spenders nationwide:
We’ve noticed Georgia Governor Brian Kemp’s federal political committee, Hardworking Americans, has begun running national-focused Facebook ads in recent weeks. The group has spent nearly $10,000 on the platform in the past month.
Another advertiser on Facebook and Instagram last week was the centrist political group No Labels, which is currently plotting to re-elect Donald Trump by running a third-party presidential candidate in 2024. The group has spent around $35,000 on these ads in the past month to build support for a “third option” next year. Last Friday, several leading Democrats penned an op-ed warning of the group’s efforts.
Meanwhile, political advertisers spent a limited amount - just over $450,000 - on Google and YouTube ads last week. Here were the top ten spenders nationwide:
Long-shot “anti-woke” GOP presidential candidate Vivek Ramaswamy led Google spending nationwide last week. If you’re actually interested in what he’s running 😂, you can check out his campaign’s ads here.
…and here’s a snapshot of political ad spending on Snapchat, year-to-date:
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From around the internet
President Biden will announce his campaign for re-election next week, according to the Washington Post. Let’s hope it brings Big Ireland Energy.
FOX News settled their lawsuit with Dominion voting systems for a casual $787 million dollars. Dan Pfeiffer wrote about why it’s bad news for MAGA.
Super PACs, traditionally relegated to advertising programs, are playing a much bigger and different role in supporting Republican campaigns these days. One such pro-Ron DeSantis group is even building out a field program.
FWIW, here’s how much money likely or confirmed 2024 presidential candidates have spent on Facebook + Google ads to date (1/1 - 4/15):
FWIW, here’s how many interactions the candidates are receiving on their Facebook posts YTD
In a recent issue of this newsletter, we shared Nikki Haley’s self-reported Q1 fundraising total. It turns out, they lied about it and inflated their numbers by several million dollars.
Chris Christie may be thinking of running for President, but his social media presence needs some work.
After spending thousands of dollars targeting early state voters with digital ads for two years, Mike Pompeo announced that he’s not going to run for President after all.
California’s U.S. Senate Gold Rush
Democrats face a tough Senate map next year, with a half dozen incumbents in “red” or “purple” states seeking re-election. Those battleground races will naturally see tens of millions of dollars spent on advertising before November - but so too will solidly blue California, where a few ambitious Democrats are eager to claim the seat of retiring Sen. Dianne Feinstein.
California is an expensive state to run a campaign in, and it has a top-two “jungle primary” system. That makes it probable that the state’s U.S. Senate race will become the most expensive Democrat-on-Democrat Senate election ever. The high stakes, big money factor is compounded by who’s running: two members of Congress who are some of the biggest grassroots fundraising all-stars in the Democratic party.
On one side is Rep. Adam Schiff, a leading Trump antagonist who became a hero to the Lincoln Project #resistance types over the past few years. On the other side is Rep. Katie Porter, who built her own reputation as a policy-focused progressive and fighter against corporate greed. A third candidate, longtime progressive Rep. Barbara Lee, is also running.
Schiff and Porter each raised colossal sums in the first quarter of 2023 - with Schiff raising more in Q1 than any other candidate for Senate nationwide. Schiff’s Q1 totals came to around $6.5 million, while Porter’s total receipts were around $4.5 million. Much of those dollars were raised online. According to their latest FEC filings, Porter brought in $2,845,660 in unitemized contributions (less than $200), while Schiff brought in $2,723,908.
Both campaigns are using every digital best practice to reach grassroots supporters with timely and targeted appeals. Here’s a look at the campaigns’ Facebook/Instagram and Google/YouTube spending over the past 90 days:
Even though the Californians would likely agree on 99% of policy issues, their digital programs differ in style and focus.
Schiff has made opposing Trump and supporting Democracy a central message of his campaign, mentioning the former President in over 600 Facebook ads this year. When news of Trump’s indictment broke, his digital team was quick to take advantage.
"People know that [Adam] cares very deeply about defending our democracy and holding the Republicans accountable,” says Mike Nellis, whose firm, Authentic, is working with Schiff. “That’s earned him a lot of loyalty from people all across the country, which you see translated into the support he has from online donors.”
By contrast, Porter’s online fundraising collateral has prominently featured her signature whiteboard explainer videos and content taking on corporate greed.
“One of Rep. Porter’s main goals as a candidate is to break down what’s happening in the world in a way that’s quick and easy to understand,” Katie Bartizal, Porter’s Digital Director, told FWIW. “We extend this to our digital program, whether that means explaining the news of the day or why we’re asking for money—we’ve sent emails explaining the Silicon Valley Bank collapse, the expensive CA media markets, and end-of-quarter deadlines.”
The California campaign is also a clash of the titans in the digital consulting world. Two major Democratic firms - Middle Seat and Authentic - are facing off against each other. Middle Seat is on team Porter, and Authentic is running Schiff’s digital operation. Both firms are led by top operatives who have a long history of working together and facing off in past Democratic primaries.
Some Democrats we’ve spoken with recently expressed concern that an expensive race for a solidly-blue Senate seat will sap grassroots dollars away from other battleground races. One strategist close to the California campaigns pushed back on that idea, asserting that Californians deserve to have a competitive primary of their own.
Along those lines, both Schiff and Porter are using their lists to help other Democrats in high-profile, competitive races. We’ve seen Schiff recently send “split fundraising” emails on behalf of Sens. Tammy Baldwin and Jon Tester, and Porter’s campaign helped fundraise for Judge Janet Protasiewicz in Wisconsin’s closely-watched Supreme Court race earlier this month.
If both candidates make it through the primary election as expected, this race will drag on for another 18 months. At their current pace, that’s 18 months of text messages, hundreds (if not thousands) of email appeals, endless launches of digital ads, and tens of millions of dollars raised.
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