With Money Or Without, Republicans Are Struggling To Find Their Voters (And Inventory)

trumpfighterjetimgAs the primary period comes to a close, Republican uncertainty – not just for presidential candidates, but in races up and down the ballot – remains a prevailing force in political advertising.

“What’s still not clear, and it has actually become a little more confusing, is the question of how much Trump will spend,” said Dan Jaffe, executive VP of government relations with the Association of National Advertisers (ANA).

It’s safe to say 2016 will see more political ad dollars than has ever been spent during an election season, but it isn’t safe to say much beyond that.

“It’s difficult because we do think that you’ll see things like inventory crunches and rates being driven up,” said Jaffe. But it’s also hard to prepare for potential impacts when the timing, sources and strategy behind those ad campaigns are so murky.

For instance, because the Koch brothers’ Freedom Partners organization and data asset i360 may not participate in the presidential campaign this year, it might free up more money and voter targeting resources for down-ballot Republican candidates.

Political media consultants have been saying for months that these candidates are getting more fundraising from normally reliable Republican donors who don’t support Donald Trump. 

And if you look at congressional cash on hand, it supports the idea. After Democratic Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York, who’s a true outlier with $26 million in the bank, the next five cash-stocked candidates are all Republicans, per the Center for Responsive Politics. In the House, eight of the top 10 and 17 of the top 20 candidates in terms of cash on hand are Republicans.

But Republicans aren’t quite sure how to effectively deploy their war chests, even if they’re well stocked.

The targeting firm Audience Partners has been working on models for candidates who need to reach Trump voters, “and it’s actually emerged into two separate things: ticket splitters and drop-off voters,” said Jordan Lieberman, the company’s politics and public affairs lead.

Other political consulting and data analytic shops have said they’re also working on a Trump model built specifically for down-ballot Republicans readjusting to this year’s coalition.

But while Republicans tune their strings, the Democrats are in full swing.

Hillary Clinton’s campaign just placed its first general election buy, dropping an eight-digit campaign across battleground states like Florida, Ohio, North Carolina and New Hampshire.

It’s the same dynamic President Obama’s campaign used in 2012, when it spent big early in the race to define Mitt Romney and secure rates and inventory before the fall, when other races (governors, senators, attorneys general, etc.) tend to heat up, said one Clinton media buyer speaking on background to discuss campaign strategy.

He likened it to “bombing an enemy’s air force while they’re sitting on the runway.”

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