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Illustration: Rebecca Zisser/Axios

As the 2020 election inches closer, Republicans continue to enjoy the digital edge they seized in 2016.

Why it matters: Online ad spending offers President Trump an efficient way to target sympathetic voters with fundraising pitches and barrage them with inflammatory messages on issues ranging from immigration to impeachment.

  • It's especially cost-effective on Facebook, because there, the more an ad proves "engaging" — i.e., hot, attention-grabbing, clicky — the cheaper it is.
  • It's a system made for Trump's style.

The big picture: This conflict, as we've been reporting, is unfolding on platforms that have given politicians a nearly unlimited free pass to tell lies.

Driving the news: The New York Times reported on Sunday that Trump is using ads on digital platforms more aggressively and creatively than Democrats.

By the numbers: Trump's campaign was massively outspending Democrats online earlier this year, but many Democrats have recently opened the floodgates, too.

  • In the last 90 days, Facebook reports say, Trump's campaign has spent approximately $5.3 million on Facebook ads. That's less than the $5.7 million spent by one Democratic candidate, Tom Steyer.
  • Biden may have retreated from the digital field, at least for now, but his rivals have not.

Between the lines: What differentiates the parties is less dollar totals than tactics.

  • Trump's messages are effective at grabbing attention, and his team — led by a campaign manager, Brad Parscale, who was the Trump digital lead in 2016 — relentlessly experiments and tests messages.
  • As is the norm with incumbents, Trump can focus his message on Democratic rivals (and fighting impeachment) while his challengers are still competing to determine who will be the party's nominee.
  • Some Democrats have brought digital ad buying and strategy in-house to cut costs. That could make it harder for them to tap the kind of up-to-date thinking and savvy agencies can offer.
  • Both sides have invested in texting infrastructure. But so far, Republicans have the edge in using text messages for fundraising and messaging.

Yes, but: Democrats have the advantage in small-dollar online donations.

  • ActBlue, a payment processing system used by most of the major Democratic presidential candidates, has pioneered small-dollar donations and donation tracking since 2016.
  • WinRed, the Republicans' rival system, only launched in July.

Our thought bubble: It's hard to envision any candidate winning the 2020 race without a top-notch strategy for digital and social media.

What's next: CEO Mark Zuckerberg will talk about Facebook's role in the 2016 and 2020 elections on an interview with NBC News' Lester Holt this evening.

Go deeper

CCP releases two jailed Canadians after Huawei CFO deal with DOJ

Photo: Sheldon Cooper/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

Two Canadians imprisoned by the Chinese government for over 1,000 days have been released and are expected to arrive in Canada on Saturday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Friday.

Why it matters: Their release comes hours after Huawei Technologies CFO Meng Wanzhou reached a deal with the U.S. Department of Justice that resolves the criminal charges against her and could pave the way for her to return to China.

Updated 21 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Arizona GOP's private recount of 2020 election confirms Biden's win

Contractors working on behalf of the GOP examine and recount 2020 ballots at Arizona Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Phoenix in May. Photo: Courtney Pedroza/Getty Images

In an odd coda to the 2020 election, private contractors conducting a GOP-commissioned recount in Arizona confirmed President Biden’s win in Maricopa County.

Why it matters: The unofficial, party-driven recount has been heavily covered on cable news as part of former President Trump's continued effort to sow doubt about the election result.

Del Rio bridge camp empty following Haitian migrant surge

A boy bathes himself in a jug of water inside a migrant camp at the U.S.-Mexico border on Sept. 21 in Del Rio, Texas. Photo: John Moore/Getty Images

The last migrants camping under the Del Rio International Bridge, which connects Texas and Mexico, departed on Friday, Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas announced during a White House press briefing.

Driving the news: Thousands of migrants, mostly from Haiti, had arrived to the makeshift camp after crossing the southern border seeking asylum. Roughly 1,800 migrants will now head to U.S. Customs and Border Protection processing centers.