What Rubio and His Super PAC Did in the Final Days in Florida

Campaign Was Taking Persuasion Approach Rather Than Pushing Get-Out-the-Vote Effort

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Conservative Solutions ad
Conservative Solutions ad Credit: Conservative Solutions

It wasn't looking good for Senator Marco Rubio's chances leading into his home state's primary Tuesday, and his campaign did little digital and TV advertising this month to help his dying cause by pushing people to the polls.

While Rubio-affiliated Super PAC Conservative Solutions spent at least $14.2 million on TV ads and around $1 million online in Florida in the hopes of convincing voters not to vote for victor Donald Trump, the Rubio campaign itself ran messages aimed at Hispanics in the hopes of rallying his core home base of supporters.

All of it, though, illustrated a strategy that even at the very end appeared to have been about persuasion rather than getting out the vote, which is a more common approach online right before election day. This was perhaps an acknowledgement that there was still some convincing to do, and perhaps recognition that simply telling people to vote on March 15 could draw out even more Trump supporters to the polls.

In 2008, the Obama for America campaign turned the practice of including links to voter registration and polling place information into a standard for digital political advertising in the days leading up to a primary or general election. This year, Democrats Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton have included get-out-the-vote messages in online ads, as has Ted Cruz. The Cruz campaign, however does not appear to have done that leading into the March 15 primary, according to Moat Pro ad tracking.

As late as two days before the primaries in Florida, Illinois, Missouri, North Carolina and Ohio, the Rubio camp was still running online ads asking people to "donate now" and "join Marco's team," according to Ad Age's analysis of data from Moat Pro, an advertising intelligence platform. (To be clear, the system does not show which particular ads were targeted to Florida voters as opposed to those in other states.)

Mr. Rubio focused his last traditional media buy in Florida on the Hispanic market. The campaign spent just $273,000 on TV and radio in March, Kantar Media's CMAG data, which tracks TV and radio spending, shows. Just $3,500 of that went towards ads in Florida markets, all on iHeartMedia radio station WRUM, a Latin pop station known as Rumba 100.3 covering the Orlando, Daytona Beach and Melbourne markets.

In total the Rubio campaign spent around $18 million on TV and radio spots since November 2015, according to CMAG. It is not yet known how much money the Rubio campaign invested in digital advertising.

Another message aimed at Hispanics ran on Twitter on March 9, according to Moat. As the two-minute-plus video ad begins, Mr. Rubio drives around what appears to be Miami, passing people sitting on a bus stop bench emblazoned with a Spanish-language ad.

"I've been raised in a community of exiles, a people who lost their country," he says in a voiceover, as family photos including one of him as a teen decked out in Miami Dolphins colors flashes on the screen.

That ad, and the digital display ads the campaign ran in March, were most likely targeted to specific audiences and appear to have been purchased mainly through ad exchanges. The campaign worked with voter data and analytics firm Optimus, which built models for voter targeting.

Meanwhile, the super PAC backing Mr. Rubio, Conservative Solutions PAC, focused much of its attention on GOP frontrunner Donald Trump, hoping to persuade voters that Trump is clueless about foreign policy, and that a vote for Mr. Rubio's other Republican opponents would only help Mr. Trump in the long run.

Many digital display ad messages from Conservative Solutions this month did not mention Mr. Rubio at all, and rather attacked Mr. Trump: "Trump doesn't know anything about foreign policy," "Donald Trump refused to denounce the KKK," "Donald Trump banned disabled veterans from his buildings," "Donald Trump abused eminent domain."

Some hit other GOP rivals: "The basic on Kasich -- more taxes more spending."

Other Conservative Solutions messages in March reminded people of Mr. Rubio's Latin-flavored Floridian roots. One Spanish-language digital ad told people to "Vote for Marco Rubio orgulloso hijo de Miami," meaning "Vote for Marco Rubio, proud son of Miami." The group ran ads on sites including TownHall.com, HuffingtonPost.com, OrlandoSentinel.com and MiamiHerald.com. Two video spots ran this month on Sun-Sentinel.com, which covers South Florida including Miami-Dade and Palm Beach.

In addition to the $14.2 million the PAC spent this month on TV ads, around $750,000 was spent on online ads in Florida according to Federal Election Commission data evaluated by Ad Age. The group also spent a small amount -- around $9,000 -- on voter contact in the Sunshine State in March.

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