$150M in political ads and counting: 10 congressional races to watch
Editor’s note: This post includes spending data analysis by Ad Age Datacenter Director of Data Management Kevin Brown. Scroll down to see the chart.
All politics is local, as the saying goes. Amidst the pandemic, that reality seems more pronounced—more real, more extreme, more divisive—than ever.
The states need this. The states need that. The states get to compete with each other to buy desperately needed this and that.
Governors have alternated between strategically supplicating themselves before the federal government and loudly decrying inaction by the feds. Senators and congressmen, meanwhile, have been collecting headlines wherever and whenever they can for demonstrating political muscle and the ability to call in chips—e.g., “Shore Congressman Secures 41 Million Medical Gloves,” as a New Jersey radio station recently reported of Republican U.S. Representative Chris Smith’s efforts to get U.S. Customs and Border Protection to release a “massive shipment that ... had been held by CBP since late September of last year.” (Smith is on the ballot for the pandemic-rescheduled July 2 4th Congressional District primary.)
Meanwhile, the citizens of several specific states (swing states, in what surely must be a coincidence) have been called upon to “liberate” themselves, to use President Trump’s word, from self-quarantine mandates.
It’s all a stark reminder that while, pre-pandemic, the presidential election dominated our collective consciousness, the U.S. Congress and many of the statehouses are also in play.
That’s why the latest Ad Age Campaign Ad Scorecard analysis—an ongoing project led by Ad Age Datacenter Director of Data Management Kevin Brown in partnership with Kantar/CMAG—focuses on congressional races. (Meanwhile, we’re simultaneously collecting data for gubernatorial races for our next edition; see this previous edition for U.S. Senate data.)
Per Datacenter’s analysis, U.S. House of Representatives races in 10 key states—Texas, California, Pennsylvania, Minnesota, Iowa, Michigan, Georgia, New York, Virginia and Illinois—have served up $154.7 million’s worth of ads so far this election cycle. That tally includes ad spending (including some advance bookings) for congressional seats across TV and radio, and represents the outlay of both individual campaigns as well as the PACs that support them.
Republicans and Democrats are within spitting range of each other, with the former spending $74.4 million and the latter $79.9 million.
Remarkably, more than half the total ad spending is coming from PACs, with the pro-Democrat House Majority PAC leading the way with $52.3 million in spending and accounting for the most spending in seven out of the 10 states, followed by the pro-Republican Congressional Leadership Fund, which is tops in spending in two out of the 10.
Among the biggest-spending individual campaigns: that of Republican Darrell Issa, the former California congressman who decided to throw his hat back in the ring by seeking to replace Duncan Hunter—a disgraced politician who pled guilty to felony campaign finance violations—in the Golden State’s 50th Congressional District. Issa’s campaign has run up a $2 million advertising bill to fend off Democrat Ammar Campa-Najjar (plus primary challengers). The 50th leans heavily Republican, and Issa has not been shy about being pro-Trump. In one ad Issa aired during primary season, an announcer declared that “President Trump needs reinforcements. Which candidate can he trust?” (Spoiler: Issa.)
Another candidate in the $2 million ad club: Republican Kathaleen Wall, who is seeking to replace retiring Republican Rep. Pete Olson in Texas’ 22nd Congressional District. Yet more evidence that the congressional races are, once again, referenda on Trump: Wall debuted an ad earlier this month (scroll past the chart below to watch it) in which an announcer not only states that she “has his back,” but that “China poisoned our people” and “President Trump has the courage to call it what it is.” (Cue a soundbite of the president calling COVID-19 “the Chinese virus.”) Wall’s message is that she’s tough on China and will “cut off trade, aid and support” to the nation.
Keep in mind that demographically speaking, things are, well, complicated in Texas. The 22nd includes the Houston-The Woodlands-Sugar Land metro area, and as Texas Monthly notes, the district has the highest concentration of Asian-Americans, about 20 percent, in Texas.
As TexMo’s headline put it: “Seeking to Represent Sugar Land, Kathaleen Wall Decides to Run Against China.”
So, yes, all politics may be local, but invoking faraway villains always comes in handy at every level of the American body politic.