Trump Campaign Plays Defense With Ad Spending During Cash Crunch

President Donald Trump speaks on the environment at the Jupiter Inlet Lighthouse and Museum on Sept. 8, 2020, in Jupiter, Fla. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

(CN) — With less than seven weeks until Election Day, the Trump campaign has tightened its advertising spending, revealing a short-term defense strategy the cash-strapped campaign believes is worth prioritizing as funds begin to dwindle.

Although Republicans and President Donald Trump took in $210 million in fundraising efforts in August, they were outshadowed by Joe Biden and Democrats, who raised a record $364.5 million for the month.

Trump’s campaign manager Bill Stepien took over the job from Brad Parscale in July after reports of excessive spending. Hit with a cash crunch, the campaign had already spent more than $1 billion since 2017, according to spending records.

“We are now carefully managing the budget. I consider it to be among the, if not the most, important tasks for any campaign manager,” Stepien said in a news conference last week. “Creating or recreating the budget was the first thing that I did upon becoming the campaign manager, and it’s something that we as a team manage every single day.”

In managing that budget, Stepien and the campaign have pulled TV and radio ads. The campaign spent only $44 million from the last week of July to Sept. 11 compared to $130 million spent by the Biden campaign, according to Advertising Analytics, a firm that tracks campaign spending.

Facing a deficit in most national polls, the Trump campaign in recent weeks has either reduced ad spending or pulled out completely in the crucial swing states of Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada, Minnesota, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, according to the firm.

Those funds, about $1.8 million, were instead sent to boost advertising in Arizona, Florida, Maine, and North Carolina. Stepien’s strategy seems to be one of defense in the short term. Trump won all of those states except Maine in the 2016 election, but picked up one electoral vote from the state’s 2nd Congressional District.

The president has largely dismissed concerns that his campaign doesn’t have the funding needed to carry out the race.

“We have much more money than we had at the same time in 2016,” Trump tweeted on Tuesday. “Also spending on other, and different, elements of the campaign.”

Earlier this month, Trump told a group of reporters he would use his own money to help fund the campaign if money ran out.

“If I have to, I would,” Trump said. “But we’re doing very well. We needed to spend more money up front because of the pandemic and the statements being made by Democrats, which were, again, disinformation.”

The Washington Post reported that Republican National Committee Chair Ronna McDaniel expressed concerns to the president that more TV ads were needed, something Trump reportedly agreed with.

Stepien has reportedly cut spending on expenses deemed unnecessary, such as travel for staffers to events, trips aboard Air Force One and a proposed NASCAR car sponsorship. The spending cuts also affected the advertising budget, just as Biden is polling ahead of the president in key battleground states. 

The majority of spending from both campaigns has gone into Florida, with $63 million already spent by the Biden campaign and $57 million by Trump’s campaign, according to Advertising Analytics.

Crucial to both campaigns are the efforts of outside groups spending money on ads where they’re needed the most. Last weekend, billionaire Michael Bloomberg pledged $100 million in new ad spending for Biden in Florida.

Trump is counting on mega donors to assist him in providing more TV ads. The recently formed super PAC Preserve America plans to spend $25 million in battleground states, in addition to the $55 million it’s already spent in September. Chris LaCivita, who helped create Swift Boat Veterans for Truth attack ads in 2004 against John Kerry, is leading the super PAC.

Additionally, the Trump campaign is spending more on Spanish language ads in Florida in a bid to improve his chances with the state’s increasing Latino population. The campaign has already spent $3.6 million since August, according to Advertising Analytics. That may come as a struggle though, as a Monmouth poll this week found Florida Latino voters favored Biden over Trump, 58% to 32%.

According to Stepien, the campaign wanted to pull back on early September advertising in order to ensure they could fund ads closer to Election Day. For example, the reelection campaign has reserved almost $1 million in ad time in Phoenix starting Sept. 22., according to filings with the FCC.

The new ad strategy sharply contrasts with the plan Stepien spoke of in August, claiming the campaign would focus on expansion into blue states and put money into states expected to have a large amount of absentee and early voters.

“The data tells us which messages and which advertising puts lead on the target best and we’re guided by that data and importantly we’re guided by the election calendar,” Stepien said last month.

It’s too early to tell if the new strategy will be an effective one. Of the states the campaign has moved its advertising funding to, Trump is, on average, behind Biden in the polls in every one except for Florida, which is currently a toss-up.

The Trump campaign is still spending more on digital ads on Facebook and Google than Biden and campaign officials have also repeatedly pointed to their over 2 million volunteer workers as a show of their strength. 

According to ad-tracking firm Kantar, the Trump campaign has $125 million in TV and radio ads booked through Election Day compared to the Biden campaign’s $115 million.

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