A progressive organization is plunging itself into the presidential campaign, unveiling plans to spend $75 million on digital advertising to counter President Trump’s early spending advantage in key 2020 battleground states.
The effort, by a nonprofit group called Acronym and an affiliated political action committee, is an outgrowth of growing concern by some Democratic officials that Mr. Trump could build an insurmountable edge in those key states through massive early advertising efforts. Mr. Trump has spent more than $26 million so far nationally just on Facebook and Google, more than the four top-polling Democrats — Joseph R. Biden Jr., Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders and Pete Buttigieg — have spent in total on those platforms.
“The gun on this general election does not start when we have a nominee; it started months ago,” said David Plouffe, who managed Barack Obama’s 2008 campaign and was a key adviser to him in 2012, and who recently joined Acronym’s board. ”If the things that need to happen don’t happen in these battleground states between now and May or June, our nominee will never have time to catch up.“
In an interview, Mr. Plouffe and Tara McGowan, the founder and chief executive of Acronym, said their digital campaign would kick off immediately with a heavy focus on shaping how the public views Mr. Trump and the Democratic Party during the primary season, well before a nominee emerges.
“Our nominee is going to be broke, tired, have to pull together the party and turn around on a dime and run a completely different race for a completely different audience,” Mr. Plouffe said.
“There is an enormous amount of danger between now and then,” he added. “If the hole is too steep to dig out of, they’re not going to win.”
The campaign, which the organization is calling “Four is Enough,” will focus initially on key swing states: Arizona, Michigan, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin. One state that is historically a battleground was notably missing from the initial list: Florida.
The effort will feature advertisements across multiple digital platforms, including Google, YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, Hulu and Pandora. There will be original content, such as videos and animations, as well as boosting local news coverage that portrays Mr. Trump, his administration and his agenda in a harsh light.
Ms. McGowan said that for months her group had been raising the alarm about Mr. Trump’s early online spending advantage.
“It started to feel as though we were really screaming into the abyss,” she said. So they decided to take matters into their own hands.
Ms. McGowan said the group had already raised approximately 40 percent of the planned $75 million budget. Mr. Plouffe has joined as both a political adviser and to help raise funds. The spending will be made across two groups, Acronym, which is a nonprofit that does not disclose its donors, and Pacronym, a political action committee, which does. (The group’s winking moniker is a poke at the frequent practice of settling on a meaningful series of words to form an acronym for a nonprofit; they have skipped that alphabet-soup step entirely.)
“We’re absolutely, as a party, not doing enough and I don’t know that $75 million is enough,” Ms. McGowan said. “We can’t afford to not do this work right now.” Of the fact that some of her group’s donors would remain undisclosed, she said, “We have to play on the field that exists,” noting that Mr. Trump is aided by such funds, as well.
Mr. Trump is not just spending heavily on advertising — he has dozens of Facebook ads currently running that cite the “baseless attacks” from Democrats on impeachment — he is also benefiting from a conservative media echo chamber that amplifies his message and a meme factory of MAGA (“Make America Great Again”) supporters cranking out content in hopes of a presidential retweet.
Much of Mr. Trump’s advertising budget has gone toward recruiting new donors. His campaign manager, Brad Parscale, announced Friday that the Trump campaign had raised $19 million online in October.
Mr. Plouffe said he knew the advantages of incumbency intimately from the 2012 Obama re-election campaign and wanted to blunt the current White House’s advantage.
“Trump will be ready for them, as we were ready for Romney, as Bush was ready for Kerry, as Reagan was ready for Mondale,” Mr. Plouffe said, ticking off recent presidents who won re-election.
He lamented having to watch Mr. Trump buy ads that tried to frame the Democratic Party as out of the mainstream. “He’s trying to define our entire field as unacceptable to swing voters: ‘They’re socialists, there are going to be 90 percent taxes, you can’t fly on an airplane, you can’t eat steak,’” Mr. Plouffe said. “We have to understand there is live fire out there.” He called the Trump campaign’s commercial that aired during the World Series “compelling.”
The Democratic National Committee has spent little on advertising against Mr. Trump in 2019. Priorities USA, a leading Democratic super PAC, has been ramping up its digital activities, spending nearly $3 million on Facebook in the past three months, particularly in battlegrounds.
In a 30-day window that ended in late October, Priorities USA, for instance, spent nearly $1 million in Pennsylvania — far more than Mr. Trump’s campaign spent there, according to Facebook advertising data.
Ms. McGowan, who worked for Priorities during the 2016 cycle, said her current efforts did not represent any criticism or tension with that group. “There is a lot everyone can do,” she said.
“Trump has upped the ante by spending more than any candidate this early in a general election campaign,” she said, “and right now our side is simply not on the field.”
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