A Democratic Super PAC Surge Helps Biden Expand His Map

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Enormous advertising buys announced in the last month of the campaign amount to a huge advantage for Joe Biden, allowing him to fight in long-shot states like Texas.

Nick Corasaniti

Oct. 20, 2020, 7:31 p.m. ET

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Until a month ago, the biggest-spending Democratic super PAC in the general election had aired only a single television ad during the campaign. Now the group, Future Forward, is on pace to spend more than $108 million on television ads supporting Joe Biden and two Senate candidates, according to Advertising Analytics, an ad tracking firm.

The group is barreling into the race a month after Michael R. Bloomberg, the former mayor and presidential candidate, pledged to spend $100 million to support Mr. Biden — exclusively in Florida. And Priorities USA, one of the biggest and oldest Democratic super PACs, has already spent $66 million since the start of the general election.

The result is yet another yawning advantage on the airwaves for Mr. Biden, who has already outspent President Trump in TV advertising by a nearly 2-to-1 margin since the general election kicked off in earnest in April. With outside groups factored in, Democratic spending in the presidential campaign has reached nearly $400 million for the final month of the race, compared with nearly $200 million in Republican spending, according to Advertising Analytics. (Check out our visual comparison of the Biden and Trump spending.)

Future Forward is backed by a Rolodex of influential Silicon Valley donors, according to records filed today with the Federal Election Commission, and first reported by Recode. It’s betting that the expensive gambit of late-campaign television advertising can still be effective in an exceptionally polarized electorate, even as more than 33.7 million ballots have already been cast, the equivalent of roughly 24 percent of the total number of votes cast in the 2016 general election.

The group’s biggest funder is Dustin Moskovitz, a co-founder of Facebook, who kicked in more than $20 million to the group, according to filings with the Federal Election Commission. Other donors include Eric Schmidt, the former chief executive of Google; Kathryn Murdoch, of the Murdoch family; Samuel Bankman-Fried, a founder of a cryptocurrency exchange; and Patty Quillin, the wife of the Netflix co-founder Reed Hastings.

The team behind Future Forward has a background in data-driven television advertising. Chauncey McLean, who is listed as the group’s president on forms filed with the Internal Revenue Service, was the director of media tracking for the Democratic Party in 2012 and was part of a team that revolutionized political ad buying by targeting television ads to persuadable voters with the precision of the internet. The effort was known as “the optimizer,” as my colleague Jim Rutenberg wrote in 2013.

While the group is joining the fight in major swing states like Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin, it’s also spending money in some traditionally Republican states that have shown tightening polls, like Texas.

Though Texas has the second most Electoral College votes in the country, it is an extraordinarily expensive state to run an ad campaign in. And given that Texas hasn’t voted for a Democratic presidential candidate since 1976, spending money there can appear to campaign strategists like a quixotic, Napoleon-invades-Russia strategy, even for a well-funded campaign like Mr. Biden’s.

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But Future Forward is blazing into Texas. Its biggest presence will be part of a major ad campaign planned to support the Democratic Senate candidate, M.J. Hegar, in her bid to unseat Senator John Cornyn, as first reported by Recode. The group has three ads currently on the air in Texas, attacking Mr. Cornyn’s votes to repeal the Affordable Care Act as undermining protections for pre-existing conditions.

The group is also exploring an ad campaign to support Mr. Biden in Texas, with three ads running in the state that focus on the coronavirus and health care. The group has invested roughly $1.9 million so far in Texas, according to Advertising Analytics.

The mere presence of an ad campaign in Texas is evidence of the vastness of the Democratic television advantage: While there will be pro-Biden ads in Texas, a long-shot state, the Trump campaign and its allied groups are not advertising in Ohio, a state that Mr. Trump won in 2016 but where polls have shown a dead-even race as the campaign heads into its final stretch.

Indeed, the two biggest outside groups supporting Mr. Trump — America First Action and Preserve America PAC — have together spent or reserved about $75 million on ads for the final month of the election, which is less than the total spending of Future Forward alone.

Both pro-Trump groups have largely mirrored the Trump campaign’s spending patterns, though they do seem to be divvying up the states: The top three states for America First Action in terms of spending are Pennsylvania, Florida and Wisconsin, while the top three buys for Preserve America PAC are in North Carolina, Arizona and Florida.

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A series of ads featuring poll workers and election officials began airing today, meant to assure Americans that the voting process is safe and secure. The $1.7 million campaign was produced by VoteSafe, a bipartisan voting rights group, and it says as much about the national psyche as it does about the political race.

The message: In one ad, Sue from Pennsylvania introduces herself as “an Army wife, a mother, a grandmother and a die-hard believer in our right to vote.” She is not a politician, she says. She is a poll worker, who has worked in Pennsylvania for the last eight years. As she is shown setting up a polling location and placing bilingual “Vote Aquí/Here” signs outside a community center near Easton, Pa., Sue addresses concerns about whether voting will be secure this election.

Her answer is clear.

“I know the process. I have seen it up close,” Sue says. “It is safe, it is secure, and I promise I am going to protect your vote as if it was my own.”

The takeaway: The constant attacks by the president on the nation’s electoral system have started to wear on public faith in the process. But rather than turn to celebrities or lawmakers to defend the system, VoteSafe’s use of the trusted and familiar image of local elections workers could help the ads land among an increasingly skeptical public.


In the struggle to control the U.S. Senate, one race in North Carolina — where the Republican incumbent, Thom Tillis, is trying to hold off his Democratic challenger, Cal Cunningham — could be crucial. Two bombshells have recently upended the contest in the purple state. Jonathan Martin, a national political correspondent for The Times, talks us through the race and examines the factors that could determine who prevails.

Click here to listen now (and learn how to subscribe to “The Daily” in your podcast app).

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