Finally: Team Trump starts ad-buy process in 17 states

Looking for another sign that Team Trump has started getting more focused and disciplined? National Journal’s Adam Wollner reports that the campaign has begun the process of putting ads on the air. The Trump campaign had gone dark on television ever since wrapping up the nomination in May, although they have published several on-line videos in the intervening three months:

As he falls fur­ther be­hind in the polls, Don­ald Trump is tak­ing the ini­tial steps to­wards air­ing the first TV ads of his gen­er­al-elec­tion cam­paign against Hil­lary Clin­ton.

The Trump cam­paign’s me­dia buy­er, Stra­tegic Me­dia Ser­vices, re­ques­ted TV ad rates in 17 states Thursday, ac­cord­ing to two sources with know­ledge of the move. The states on the list are: Ari­zona, Col­or­ado, Flor­ida, Geor­gia, In­di­ana, Iowa, Maine, Min­nesota, Michigan, Mis­souri, New Hamp­shire, Nevada, North Car­o­lina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Vir­gin­ia, and Wis­con­sin.

Re­quest­ing rates in these states doesn’t ne­ces­sar­ily mean that the cam­paign will air ads there ahead of the Novem­ber elec­tion. But it marks the first time that the cam­paign has shopped for air­time since the primar­ies.

Some of the delay relates to fundraising. Before June, Team Trump didn’t take it seriously enough. After raising only $3 million in May, Trump finally took advantage of his partnership with the RNC to raise $26.7 million in June and a reported $80 million in July. By the time of the June report, though, Hillary was already on the air with general-election ads targeting Trump in several states. She got out of the gate first as the Republican nominee fell into the same trap as the last one — not having any funds on hand to answer pre-convention air attacks. Plus, Team Hillary has done its share of web spots, too, including this one out yesterday taking on Trump on his perceived strong turf on jobs and the economy.

However, it’s not clear yet that those ads had an immediate impact. Trump’s polling position was mostly competitive with Hillary until after the Democratic convention, suggesting that the air blitz didn’t do as much damage as Trump did to himself. The RCP aggregate average tracking chart from the beginning of May to now shows that Trump’s position proved resilient even without a television ad campaign — until just recently:

rcp-clinton-trump-summer

Hillary had a couple of days with a polling lead almost as significant as today’s +7 in June, but that was due more to a precipitous drop in Trump’s popularity rather than a significant rise in Hillary’s. Trump bounced back around the conventions, showing surprising strength until the post-convention period. The current gap comes from a combination of both dynamics. Hillary’s back to her early-May peak, while Trump has dropped to near his June nadir. The latter is definitely not due to a deficit of on-air ads, and it seems iffy that Hillary’s sharp upturn is related to advertising either. It’s possible to argue, though, that a more robust television strategy from Team Trump (or any at all) might have moderated the polling stumbles in both June and August.

That’s all water under the bridge now, of course. NJ’s list of states are competitive, with the probable exception of Minnesota. Team Hillary has been heavy on the air here, but there has been very little indication that we have suddenly become a battleground state. (I’ve been as puzzled about that strategy as I’ve been annoyed at the ads, a mix of positive and negative spots.) It includes two states in which Hillary Clinton has suspended ad buys, Colorado and Virginia, apparently satisfied with their position in these states. If Team Trump wants to get competitive in these states through air time, they will need to get spots ASAP. Now that they have the cash, it will be interesting to see just where they invest it.