Ad spending soars as Trump plays defense in red states

A group of anti-Trump Republicans is spending $2 million on new TV and digital ads supporting former Vice President Joe Biden in two states President Donald Trump won in 2016 — the latest in a blitz of ad buys in red states from both sides of the presidential race.

Republicans Voting Against Trump, which launched last month and announced a $10 million ad campaign, told CNN it is allocating a fifth of that budget to ads that target Republican or Republican-leaning voters in both Arizona and North Carolina.

Both states have voted for the GOP presidential nominee all but once in every election since 1980, but recent polling shows Biden leading Trump in Arizona and with a smaller lead over Trump (but within the margin of error) in North Carolina. The two states also have competitive Senate races with Republican incumbents.

The new ads are aimed specifically at disaffected Republicans. They feature a series of stark, spare testimonials from longtime GOP voters and former elected officials explaining why they do not or can no longer support the President. A longtime voter in North Carolina in one ad says that he wishes he could put a sign in his yard to tell people to “vote against Trump.”

The new ad purchases reflect how the 2020 political landscape has shifted in ways that have narrowed Trump’s path to a second term. While both parties expected to battle over the three crucial blue states that flipped to the GOP in 2016 — Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin — Trump is having to play defense in states that are crucial to his reelection, including Arizona and North Carolina.

In June alone, the Trump campaign spent more than $14 million in seven states Trump won in 2016. According to data compiled by Kantar Media/CMAG, in June the President’s campaign doubled what it had already spent this year on TV and digital ads in Arizona, Florida, Georgia and North Carolina. It has also increased spending in three more Trump states: Iowa, Ohio and Texas.

The Trump campaign declined to comment for this story.

Meanwhile, Biden’s campaign has spent nearly $4 million on ads across those same seven states Trump won in 2016 — including more than $2 million in Florida and $500,000 each in Arizona, Texas and North Carolina since the beginning of June. According to a Biden campaign memo obtained by CNN, some of those ads are aimed at potential red-state voters, and airing during NASCAR races or on Fox News during the daytime. The memo also claims to plan on targeting white working-class voters in Florida’s Panhandle region, a staunchly Republican part of the state.

Outside groups opposed to Trump seemed to have smelled blood in the water in these states, too.

“Winning in traditionally GOP states like North Carolina and Arizona requires winning over voters who might not align with the Democrats politically, so RVAT is employing fellow conservatives who aren’t used to voting for Democrats to help convince their peers to make the switch to Biden this November,” said Sarah Longwell, a longtime conservative and Republican consultant who is the executive director of Defending Democracy Together, a conservative anti-Trump nonprofit that sponsors the Republican Voters Against Trump project.

Other anti-Trump groups are doing likewise. The Democrat-aligned super PAC Priorities USA has spent hundreds of thousands more on advertising in June in Arizona and Florida. And the Lincoln Project (another group of Republicans disaffected with Trump) has also dropped five- and six-figure buys in some of these states in the same period.

On top of that, the Trump campaign has reserved $69 million in television ads beginning in September through Election Day in Arizona, Florida, Ohio, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. That’s as clear a signal as possible that the Republican president’s team expects to need to boost its position in states that should normally be given.

“Biden picks off any one of them and it’s over,” said Liam Donovan, a Republican strategist. “Barring a big surprise.”