By Jim Ellis
April 1, 2020 — The Senate Majority PAC, one of the chief advocacy entities for Democratic candidates, has reserved media time totaling $69.2 million from August through the election, as reported on the Daily Kos Elections website. The expenditures provide us some clues into how the Democratic establishment and their progressive left allies view their strategic attack points in relation to the national political landscape.
The early media time reservations are invested in five states: Arizona, Colorado, Iowa, Maine, and North Carolina. This is certainly not the limit of the SMP planned expenditures, nor is the organization likely committed to fulfilling the entirety of this time buy without having negotiated an escape clause. All depends upon their agreements with the individual television outlets and does not include any future expenditure the group may make for radio and digital advertising.
Setting the stage, the five states are all clearly top-tier Republican-held targets of which the Democrats would have to convert nearly all in order to wrest Senate control away from the current majority. That number grows if they fail to defend their own vulnerable seats in either Alabama or Michigan, or both.
The largest time reservation is in North Carolina, where Democrats hope newly nominated Cal Cunningham, a former state senator and 2010 US Senate candidate (lost Democratic nomination to then-secretary of state Elaine Marshall who would lose the general election to GOP Sen. Richard Burr), can unseat first-term incumbent Thom Tillis (R) in a state that has defeated more senators than any other in the modern political era. Of the $69.2 million in national reservations the group made, $25.6 million is dedicated to North Carolina media markets.
Arizona gets the second largest share with $15.7 million dedicated toward helping retired astronaut Mark Kelly, already the consensus Democratic candidate, challenge appointed Sen. Martha McSally (R). Iowa, where Democrats will nominate a candidate on June 2 to challenge first-term Sen. Joni Ernst (R), will see $13.1 million of the SMP media buy. Maine gets $9.6 million to oppose Sen. Susan Collins (R), and Colorado $5.2 million largely for negative ads against first-term Sen. Cory Gardner (R).
The amounts, however, don’t tell the complete story. We must look further at population and media market cost in determining just how much advertising will appear in a particular political situation.
In reality, the largest-weighted share is the $9.6 million being invested in Maine, a state of 1.3 million people who reside within two congressional districts and see media coverage through four relatively small markets. The second largest bang for the buck is Iowa, where the $13.1 million will be spread over four congressional districts within 17 small and medium-sized television markets, three of which come from another state.
Though North Carolina gets the largest aggregate television buy, the money will be spread over 29 media markets, including mega-Atlanta in order to reach part of the state. The Tar Heel State is a place of 10.5 million people spread relatively evenly among 13 congressional districts in addition to being virtually assured of getting another in the 2020 reapportionment scheduled to happen at the end of the year.
Arizona is actually the fourth-largest buy of the group, with $15.7 million being spent over nine congressional districts in 13 markets from yet another state that is sure to gain an additional CD for its fast-growing population of 6.7 million people.
Finally, the Colorado buy is the smallest allocation but still significant as the $5.2 million will be spread mostly in one expensive media market (Denver) and a major secondary one (Colorado Springs), while touching two others. Colorado has seven federal districts and is another place projected to gain a seat for the next decade. Here, Democrats are expected to nominate former governor and presidential candidate John Hickenlooper (D) to challenge Sen. Gardner.
Absent from the initial buy list is Kentucky, where consensus Democratic candidate Amy McGrath had already raised about $17 million at the end of 2019. She promises to spend heavily in her effort to unseat Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.
There was also no early expenditure reserved for two of their highly touted strategic challenge races. Those are Kansas, where party-switching state Sen. Barbara Bollier (D-Mission Hills) hopes that former Kansas secretary of state Kris Kobach comes through the Republican primary, and Montana, where the Democratic leadership was successful in convincing governor and former presidential candidate Steve Bullock, on the last day of candidate qualification, to challenge Sen. Steve Daines (R).
Preliminary media reservations don’t always fully come to fruition, but the scope of booking this huge amount of television time this early in specific, targeted states guarantees a favorable media price card, while certainly providing insight into the progressive left’s targeting priorities.