Following the Money

20 May 2020


Cogito Ergo Non Serviam

Trump  Campaign Ad Buys Show Worry


The business of political prognostication is clearly an art rather than a science, if it is not an outright con job. However, there is one way to assess the situation that is more reasonable than others, follow the money. If one understands where a campaign is spending its money, one understands its strategic priorities and its concerns. Donald Trump's re-election campaign has bought social media and traditional airtime in markets that he should not be fighting for. It suggests the campaign is worried about shoring up its base, and it is worried about its prospects.

The New York Times observed that the Trump campaign is running ads against Joe Biden focusing on his age. The campaign has spent $660,000 in the last week just on Facebook ads, a noticeable sum. The ads are running in the battleground states of Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio and Pennsylvania. This makes perfect sense, and one would be surprised if these states were not receiving attention from the re-election campaign.

It is the other four states that is of interest to the psephologist: Arizona, Florida, Georgia and North Carolina. A healthy re-election campaign would not put a penny into these traditionally Republican states this early in the race. The fact that they are spending so much money in these states so early illustrates a campaign that is concerned about losing part of its base.

The current figures show that the president's re-election warchest has $187 million more than Mr. Biden and the Democrats' coffers. However, that is not terribly important if the ad buys are not going into marginal states and those that lean to the Democrats. Playing on his own end of the field is not where Mr. Trump wants to be, and the money he spends doing so might keep him from losing by a lot but it won't help him win.

The fact that Mr. Trump feels the need to spend in Florida goes to the heart of the election. If Mr. Trump loses the four battleground states listed above, he might still carry the electoral college. If he loses Florida, the national swing against him would be so large that he could not possibly win a second term. Yet, he is buying anti-Biden ads in the Florida panhandle, locally known as the Red Neck Riviera.

In Pennsylvania, the spending is strong but precious little of it is going to Philadelphia. Combined, the Republicans and Democrats have spent about $9 million in Pennsylvania, but just $141,000 in Philadelphia. That suggests that the state is in play, but neither is of the opinion that there are votes to be shifted in the City of Brotherly Love. Instead, they are playing for votes in the middle of the state. Democratic strategist James Carville once explained that Pennslyvania had Philly at one end, Pittsburgh at the other and in between, there was Alabama. Those votes and the working-class voters in Pittsburgh are the targets of current spending.

In both Florida and Pennsylvania, public polling has Mr. Biden ahead by about 5% as of last week. In Arizona and Michigan, the former vice president is up by 8%. In Georgia and North Carolina, the race is statisically even with Mr. Biden up by 1% in Georgia and Mr. Trump leads by 3% in North Carolina. Mr. Biden is up 3% in Wisconsin while Mr. Trump leads by 3% in Ohio, also statistical dead-heats.

Naturally, a week is a long time in politics, so the campaign has an eternity to run as yet. However, the president's re-election bid is clearly on its back foot and will need some kind of strategic shift if it is to have any hope of success.

At least, that's how they are spending their money, and that says more than any poll does.

© Copyright 2020 by The Kensington Review, Jeff Myhre, PhD, Editor. No part of this publication may be reproduced without written consent. Produced using Ubuntu Linux.

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