Trump Spends 9-in-10 Advertising Dollars Defending States He Won
U.S. President Donald Trump walks after disembarking Marine One on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, D.C., U.S. (Photographer: Shawn Thew/EPA/Bloomberg)

Trump Spends 9-in-10 Advertising Dollars Defending States He Won

President Donald Trump is spending nearly all of his advertising money to keep states he won in 2016, playing a game of defense in areas a Republican incumbent should be able to count on.

More than 92% of his state-based spending in the month of July is in states he won in 2016, according to a Bloomberg analysis of television advertising data compiled by Advertising Analytics.

Joe Biden, leading in all national polls, is spending in seven key states that Trump won in 2016, too, banking on at least some of them swinging Democratic with widespread voter dissatisfaction over Trump’s handling of the coronavirus and the accompanying economic crash.

“It would be fair to say that Trump winning this time would be a bigger upset than 2016,” said Kyle Kondik, an analyst at the University of Virginia Center for Politics. “Yes, he’s the incumbent, but 2020 is not the year you’d want to be running for president as an incumbent — and that would be true whether it was Trump or someone else.”

The spending data paints a very different picture than Trump himself, who boasts that he’s in strong shape for re-election and that a string of recent polls showing Biden leading comfortably are wrong. For an incumbent president to be defending so many once-friendly states is a sign of trouble.

Trump is spending heavily on attack ads against Biden in states like Florida, Georgia, North Carolina and Ohio — all states Trump won so handily in 2016 that most analysts wouldn’t call them swing states in 2020. But Biden is ahead or within striking distance in those states.

Trump’s campaign manager Bill Stepien calls that “protecting the map.”

“You’ve heard this before. The polls had us losing for pretty much all of 2016, and we ended up winning,” Stepien told reporters last week.

Midwestern Hopes

Trump’s 74-vote margin of victory in the Electoral College in 2016 means he can afford to lose one or two of his 2016 states and still be re-elected, Stepien says, but that means he has to keep traditionally Republican states like Arizona and North Carolina.

Biden needs to win back all three “Blue Wall” states that Hillary Clinton lost in 2016 — Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin. He’s leading Trump in all three states.

Of those Midwestern states, Trump is most focused on Pennsylvania, where he hopes working-class suburban and rural voters still approve of his handling of trade and energy issues. That’s where his and Biden’s ad spending are nearly identical, with Biden dropping $5.7 million there in July compared to $5.5 million for Trump.

But Biden was born in Scranton and considers Pennsylvania home turf. Living in Wilmington, Delaware, Biden holds many of his weekly in-person campaign events in next-door Pennsylvania.

Biden is also outspending Trump on ads in Michigan as well as Texas, where the men are in a dead heat in a state that hasn’t voted Democratic in decades.

Biden has spent nearly $2 million in Michigan in July, compared to $660,000 for Trump.

Trump Spends 9-in-10 Advertising Dollars Defending States He Won
Trump Spends 9-in-10 Advertising Dollars Defending States He Won

The Cook Political Report moved Florida’s 29 electoral votes from “toss up” to “leans Democratic” in its influential state ratings last week.

Cook says Texas still leans Republican despite Biden’s growing support there. Texas alone would be enough to flip the Electoral College if everything else from 2016 remained the same. Neither candidate spent much money there in July, but Biden has spent $65,000 to Trump’s $317.

Even Arizona, which has voted Republican all but once since 1952, is trending Democratic. A CNN poll of Arizona voters Sunday shows Biden leading by 4 points, with 60% dissatisfied of Trump’s handling of the coronavirus, which hit the border state this summer.

Trump is also defending states where Biden isn’t campaigning. He’s spent $3.7 million in Georgia in July, $2.5 million in Ohio and $1.3 million in Iowa.

“Biden has been more laser-focused on his campaign advertising than Trump has been,” Kondik said.

That bodes poorly for Trump, he said. “In a world where the race is 50-50 they wouldn’t feel the need to spend in Ohio,” he said. “If Ohio is a 1- or 2-point race then we know Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania are flipping in that scenario.”

Trump is also making a play for three states Clinton won in 2016 — Minnesota, Nevada and New Mexico. “Our plan for 2020 is not just about repeating 2016. There are multiple opportunities to expand the map for the president,” Stepien said.

Trump Spends 9-in-10 Advertising Dollars Defending States He Won

The Trump campaign’s rosy election map also fails to account for less tangible factors of candidates. And 2020 has plenty, with majorities of voters disapproving of Trump’s handling of the virus and the economy.

”He was played a difficult hand in March and I don’t think he’s played that hand particularly well,” Kondik said of Trump.

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

BQ Install

Bloomberg Quint

Add BloombergQuint App to Home screen.