May 25, 2022 - Politics & Policy

First look: McConnell group's $43M summer ad blitz

Illustration of an elephant trunk holding a bag of money with a light shining on it
Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

One Nation, a nonprofit group aligned with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, is gearing up for a $43 million summer spending blitz targeting five competitive Senate seats, the group tells Axios.

Why it matters: The biggest target by far is Georgia. The GOP effort to wrest back the seat from Sen. Raphael Warnock (D-Ga.) will get an infusion of more than $17 million — about 40% of the nationwide spend.

The big picture: $43 million is a substantial sum to drop before Labor Day and the final leg of campaigning.

  • It adds to the more than $141 million the group's sister super PAC, the Senate Leadership Fund (SLF), has booked through the fall.

Details: One Nation's buys will also target Arizona, Nevada, New Hampshire and Wisconsin.

  • Georgia's Warnock is considered one of the cycle's most vulnerable Senate incumbents. He will face Herschel Walker, the University of Georgia football great who won the state's Republican Senate primary on Tuesday.
  • One Nation's foray into New Hampshire represents a new offensive front. That's been considered a safer Democratic seat, and SLF has not booked air time in the race.

The other side: Majority Forward, the nonprofit arm of the Democratic Senate Majority PAC, is active in some of the same states.

  • It's currently on the air in New Hampshire with an ad defending Sen. Maggie Hassan.
  • Majority Forward tells Axios it's also booking an additional $3.6 million in airtime in Wisconsin, on top of the $2.7 million it's already spent on broadcast and digital ads in the state.
  • It said it anticipates booking additional airtime later in the cycle.

Between the lines: Majority Forward and One Nation are both 501(c)4 nonprofits, often referred to as "dark money" groups, and are limited in their explicit political activity.

  • One Nation's new buys are devoted instead to issue ads.
  • Inflation will be a central component of what the group is calling its "Summer of Accountability" campaign, the group tells Axios.
  • While most of the ads will hit Democratic incumbents, One Nation is also playing defense in Wisconsin, where it's running a spot boosting Republican Sen. Ron Johnson.

The big picture: Republicans hope to capitalize on voter dissatisfaction with unified Democratic control in Washington.

  • The huge ad buy numbers from One Nation and SLF show the party is trying to run up the scoreboard in what is expected to be a favorable year for the party.

Yes, but: While GOP outside spenders are putting up huge numbers, so too are some Democratic candidates.

  • Warnock, for instance, is posting record fundraising hauls.
  • In Arizona, Democrat Sen. Mark Kelly is out-raising all of his potential GOP challengers by a wide margin.
  • Nevada Democrat Catherine Cortez Masto also has a substantial fundraising edge on her likely opponent, former state Attorney General Adam Laxalt.
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