Trump Campaign to Break TV Hiatus With First New Ads in Weeks

(Bloomberg) -- Presidential candidates saturated the airways more than 9,000 hours of political ads this winter. But since most of the country went into a virus-fueled lockdown, neither President Donald Trump nor Joe Biden have broadcast a single 30-second television spot.

Now, Trump’s re-election campaign is set to release a flood of advertisements touting his response to the coronavirus pandemic after both camps wrestled with how to make their case to nervous voters without seeming tone deaf amid the crisis and its economic fallout.

A senior Trump campaign official said the president is spending seven figures on a nationwide ad blitz praising his management of the crisis.

The commericals, which will begin appearing on Sunday, are meant to be inspirational and to signal the start of economic recovery after more than a month of lockdown because of social-distancing requirements, the official said.

On Sunday evening, the president will hold a virtual two-hour town hall on the Fox News Channel. The event will be held at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington.

The moves mark a new phase in the campaign, which had largely been stalled since mid-March when much of the country closed, and allows the president to seize on a tactical advantage enjoyed by incumbents. Flush with cash after running without serious opposition in the primaries, incumbents can pound their general election opponent with a barrage of unanswered negative ads. Challengers have to focus on refilling coffers depleted by the nomination battle and building their campaigns.

For example, in May 2012, President Barack Obama’s campaign launched a series of ads attacking Mitt Romney’s tenure at Bain Capital, claiming he didn’t care about working people. In March 2004, President George W. Bush’s campaign went on the air with a series of ads attacking Senator John Kerry, the eventual Democratic nominee, accusing him of being weak on defense and favoring higher taxes.

Trump’s campaign had been debating whether it was a good strategy to issue ads in the middle of the outbreak and whether they would even break through with voters focused on the virus and the battered economy.

Will Feltus, a former GOP media planner, said it might be better to stay off the airwaves during the pandemic. “People don’t like politics during a time of national crisis.”

Also, Trump’s daily White House briefings dominated the news and initially rendered television buys unnecessary, said Michael Franz, co-director of the Wesleyan Media Project, which studies political advertising. But as criticism of Trump’s remarks from the briefing room mounted, the campaign kicked into gear.

“The campaign now needs to start setting the narrative a bit more, since reactions to the briefings have turned more negative,” Franz said.

The large ad buy indicates that Trump has also moved beyond worries that spending lavishly on advertising now could leave the campaign short of money if the economy remains stalled and donors, large and small, have to cut back. Trump’s re-election effort started April with $244 million in the bank, much more than the $62.2 million that Biden and the Democratic National Committee had.

That worry may not be unfounded. Trump’s March fundraising numbers were down $23 million from February’s $86 million haul as scheduled in-person fundraising events were canceled. Biden had a career-best $46.7 million haul in March as he barrrelled toward his party’s nomination. Campaigns next report their April fundraising totals to the Federal Election Commission on May 20.

Television stations have felt the hit from the ad break, said John Link, vice president of marketing and sales at Advertising Analytics. “Broadcasters are hurting right now,” he said, adding that rates are falling as other big advertisers in local markets like auto and truck dealerships have pulled back spending. “You can get more for your dollar as a candidate right now because the supply and demand chain is way down.”

One place the campaigns have been spending ad money is online. Biden has spent $5.6 million on digital ads since mid-March, while Trump has spent $6.9 million. Many of those ads are fundraising pitches, though each candidate is taking online potshots at the other. Trump featured Hillary Clinton’s Tuesday endorsement of the former vice president in an appeal for donations on Facebook. Biden calls Trump unfit in an ad on the same platform.

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