Ka­vanaugh foes flood Face­book with ads

Democrats’ spend­ing far out­paces GOP re­sponse

USA TODAY US Edition - - FRONT PAGE - Jes­sica Guynn, John Fritze and Christo­pher Sch­naars USA TO­DAY

WASH­ING­TON – A flood of ad­ver­tis­ing paid for by left-lean­ing groups op­posed to Jus­tice Brett Ka­vanaugh’s con­fir­ma­tion ap­peared on Face­book in the hours af­ter the Se­nate voted to put him on the Supreme Court – a blitz that was mostly un­matched by Repub­li­cans, a USA TO­DAY anal­y­sis shows.

In the two days af­ter the Ka­vanaugh vote, Demo­cratic can­di­dates and groups that lob­bied heavily against Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s nom­i­nee out­spent Repub­li­cans by as much as five to one, and their mes­sages ap­peared on as many as 4.4 mil­lion screens.

The lop­sided show­ing on one of the most pop­u­lar plat­forms for dig­i­tal po­lit­i­cal ad­ver­tis­ing comes as both par­ties seek to use Ka­vanaugh’s con­fir­ma­tion to en­er­gize their vot­ers be­fore next month’s midterm elec­tion. The lighter pres­ence for Repub­li­can groups may un­der­score the chal­lenge the GOP will face with weeks to go be­fore vot­ers de­cide con­trol of Congress.

“Peo­ple are so mad,” said Liz Jaff, pres­i­dent of Be a Hero PAC, a group launched this year that spent nearly $80,000 on Face­book af­ter the con­fir­ma­tion vote this past week­end. “They’re not go­ing to for­get.”

Of roughly 800 Face­book ad place­ments re­viewed by USA TO­DAY, more than 650 were funded by groups op­posed to Ka­vanaugh. Those ads, many of which were iden­ti­cal but tar­geted at dif­fer­ent de­mo­graphic groups, em­braced words such as “fu­ri­ous,” “out­raged” and “dis­gusted” to describe the Se­nate’s vote to con­firm Ka­vanaugh, de­spite al­le­ga­tions by Chris­tine Blasey Ford that he sex­u­ally as­saulted her decades ago. Ka­vanaugh ve­he­mently de­nied the al­le­ga­tions.

“Repub­li­cans voted to con­firm Brett Ka­vanaugh to the Supreme Court, even though he is clearly un­fit,” read one ad from the lib­eral group MoveOn.org that crossed as many as 500,000 screens. “This is just the lat­est ex­am­ple of why we must vote out Don­ald Trump’s cronies on Elec­tion Day.”

Af­ter the con­fir­ma­tion, pro-abor­tion rights group NARAL Pro-Choice Amer­ica launched a $1 mil­lion tele­vi­sion and dig­i­tal ad cam­paign fo­cused on vul­ner­a­ble House Repub­li­cans run­ning in sub­ur­ban races. In the hours af­ter the vote, NARAL placed a Face­book ad that has been viewed tens of thou­sands of times and cost less than $500.

“It’s in­cred­i­bly painful to think of the suf­fer­ing that we know Brett Ka­vanaugh and his ap­point­ment will bring about for mil­lions of Amer­i­cans,” the ad read. “But we will not for­get this pain – not to­mor­row, not next week, and not in Novem­ber.”

About 150 ad place­ments sup­port­ing Ka­vanaugh re­lied on less charged rhetoric. Some con­grat­u­lated Ka­vanaugh and Trump on the out­come. Only a hand­ful di­rectly blamed Democrats for the process, echo­ing Trump who said he be­lieves Ford’s al­le­ga­tions were part of a Demo­cratic ef­fort to smear Ka­vanaugh.

A group called Stand with Su­san Collins ran two Face­book ads prais­ing the Maine Repub­li­can for her “prin­ci­pled stand against the in­tim­i­da­tion.”

Sen. Lind­sey Gra­ham, R-S.C., be­came one of the most out­spo­ken sup­port­ers of Ka­vanaugh, launch­ing an im­pas­sioned de­fense of Trump’s nom­i­nee af­ter Ford’s tes­ti­mony be­fore the Se­nate Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee last month. Gra­ham’s po­lit­i­cal cam­paign ran two ads min­utes af­ter the vote closed on the Se­nate floor.

“Let Sen­a­tor Gra­ham know you ap­pre­ci­ate his sup­port of Jus­tice Ka­vanaugh,” read one of Gra­ham’s ads. “Send Sen­a­tor Gra­ham a mes­sage to­day!”

The ad di­rected users to en­ter their name and email ad­dress on Gra­ham’s web­site.

A spokesman for Gra­ham’s cam­paign de­clined to com­ment.

Some Repub­li­can groups may be tread­ing care­fully, fear­ful of alien­at­ing women and in­de­pen­dents in tight House races in sub­ur­ban dis­tricts, an­a­lysts said. “The risk of in­flam­ing vot­ers that just don’t like Ka­vanaugh is greater than the re­ward of keep­ing en­thu­si­asm high for the base,” said Repub­li­can strate­gist John Thomas with Thomas Part­ners Strate­gies.

James Dickey, chair­man of the Texas Repub­li­can Party, said Repub­li­cans and in­de­pen­dent vot­ers are just as fired up as Democrats over the con­fir­ma­tion. The state party ran a pair of ads in the days af­ter the vote that reached as many as 10,000 screens in the state.

“We ran the ads to get a feel for just how fired up vot­ers were and to give peo­ple an out­let for ex­press­ing their ap­pre­ci­a­tion for Jus­tice Ka­vanaugh’s ap­point­ment,” Dickey said in a state­ment. “What we learned was that we’ll be see- ing a lot of these very mo­ti­vated Repub­li­cans on elec­tion day.”

This year, Face­book launched stricter ad dis­clo­sures for po­lit­i­cal can­di­dates and for ads fo­cused on po­lar­iz­ing is­sues such as race and im­mi­gra­tion in an ef­fort to pre­vent Rus­sian op­er­a­tives and other for­eign ac­tors from med­dling in U.S. elec­tions.

Po­lit­i­cal ad­ver­tis­ers have to ver­ify their iden­tity and lo­ca­tion. A “paid for by” la­bel is slapped on any Face­book and In­sta­gram ads that are po­lit­i­cal or touch on is­sues of na­tional im­por­tance.

Face­book users may view an on­line archive, where they can see ap­prox­i­mately how much the ad cost – within a range – how widely it was seen and who the ad reached. Face­book gave USA TO­DAY and a small num­ber of or­ga­ni­za­tions early ac­cess to sift through the archive’s data.

Us­ing the top range of im­pres­sions for both pro- and anti-Ka­vanaugh forces, the left-lean­ing groups reached as many as 4.4 mil­lion screens com­pared with 1.3 mil­lion for the pro-Ka­vanaugh groups, ac­cord­ing to the anal­y­sis. Most of the anti-Ka­vanaugh ads were placed not by can­di­dates but out­side groups.

Face­book has be­come a go-to plat­form for po­lit­i­cal cam­paigns be­cause of its abil­ity to tar­get mes­sag­ing at spe­cific types of vot­ers. Democrats can use it to pin­point sub­ur­ban women who may have been put off by Ka­vanaugh’s con­fir­ma­tion. Repub­li­cans can go af­ter evan­gel­i­cals keen to put con­ser­va­tives on the Supreme Court.

“Face­book is re­ally good at trans­lat­ing emo­tional re­sponses into ac­tion,” said Justin Schall, a Demo­cratic con­sul­tant in­volved in sev­eral midterm races. “It’s in­cred­i­bly pow­er­ful, par­tic­u­larly when done timely.”

Demo­cratic po­lit­i­cal strate­gist Alex Kell­ner said the Ka­vanaugh con­fir­ma­tion is driv­ing dona­tions and vol­un­teers on the left, fir­ing up base vot­ers at just the right time. Democrats, he said, hope to tie the GOP to Ka­vanaugh to make gains with col­lege-ed­u­cated women and in­de­pen­dent vot­ers.

“The Ka­vanaugh con­fir­ma­tion has proven to be a very good mes­sage to rile up the Demo­cratic base,” said Kell­ner, se­nior direc­tor at Bully Pul­pit In­ter­ac­tive. “In a midterm elec­tion, where turnout is vi­tal, that can be a game changer.”

Repub­li­cans, in­clud­ing Trump, coun­tered that the episode will en­er­gize their vot­ers as well, ei­ther out of ap­pre­ci­a­tion for the pres­i­dent or anger over what some viewed as a po­lit­i­cally mo­ti­vated, last-minute at­tack. GOP con­sul­tants ac­knowl­edged their party faces a big chal­lenge: Cel­e­brat­ing too much could turn off in­de­pen­dents.

“You don’t want to hand am­mu­ni­tion to your op­po­nents,” Thomas said.

A CNN poll con­ducted over a pe­riod be­fore and af­ter the vote found that roughly half of Amer­i­cans op­posed Ka­vanaugh, com­pared with 41 per­cent who sup­ported him.

“Face­book is re­ally good at trans­lat­ing emo­tional re­sponses into ac­tion.” Justin Schall, Demo­cratic con­sul­tant


Pro­test­ers gather Tues­day for Brett Ka­vanaugh’s first day on the Supreme Court.

Lind­sey Gra­ham

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