Joe Biden bucks tradition, bets big on early swing-state advertising

Walking with purpose, pulling up his shirt sleeves, glad-handing voters, commanding the podium — the images of Joe Biden flashing across swing-state television and computer screens since late August present a vibrant and pointed departure from the way most Americans now see the president.

About 3 in 4 U.S. adults recently told CNN pollsters that Biden failed to inspire confidence and raised “serious concerns” about his physical and mental competence. But this is a different leader shown in the new ads: Here he is before Congress saying no one should bet against America. There he is at the rope line giving a Black teenager a “go-get-’em-tiger” tap on the chest. Wages are rising. Manufacturing is back.

The contrast helps explain why the Biden campaign has decided to buck precedent by launching a major advertising buy sooner than Barack Obama or Donald Trump, the last two presidents to run for reelection.

It’s a major investment for a still-growing campaign. Through the end of June, Biden’s campaign organization had raised less than $23 million, all in checks no larger than $3,300. The same account is now shouldering the costs of the first weeks of a $25 million, 16-week television and digital campaign, overwhelmingly aimed at the swing-state voters that will decide the election. A person involved — who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly on internal discussions — said it remains uncertain whether the campaign will foot the entire bill through December, or whether the deeper pockets of the Democratic National Committee and state parties begin to spend as well.

The full ad campaign has separate spots to target Hispanics — with a Puerto Rican accent in Pennsylvania and a Mexican one in Arizona — with a separate tag line, “Somos Nosotros,” or “It’s Us.” African American spots praise Biden’s work to cut “Black child poverty” and grow “Black businesses.” An abortion rights message is covered with a female narrator, while a young mom cement mason in the Wisconsin testimonial says Biden is “helping real people.” Unlike Obama, who relied heavily on direct-to-camera speaking for his positive spots, these narrated ads typically unfold as montages of the American people and Biden in action.

President Biden’s 2024 campaign ran this ad featuring a testimonial from a Wisconsin concrete worker as part of an advertising buy that began in August. (Video: Biden for President)

Veterans of past Democratic presidential campaigns such as former Obama campaign manager Jim Messina and Jim Margolis, an ad man for Obama and Hillary Clinton, praised the unusual strategy as smart politics. The first major ad buy for Trump’s reelection bid didn’t come until October 2020 and Obama waited until March of 2012 to start sustained spending, after a short burst in January to push back on Republican ads.

But the early spending is also an implicit admission of the challenge of reaching voters in an evolving media landscape, which has been a focus for the Biden team, who spent the early years of Biden’s presidency researching the rise of social networks…

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