Analysis | Inside the Biden campaign’s ad strategy

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In today’s edition … Democrats go on offense against impeachment push … What we’re watching: AI Week in the Senate … All about the new Trump tax cuts … Biden finishes Vietnam trip … but first …

The campaign

Inside the Biden campaign’s ad strategy

Voters are not inspired by President Biden — so his reelection campaign has started spending millions of dollars on ads more than a year before early voting starts to project an image of strength.

“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,” our colleague Michael Scherer reports.

  • One ad shows Biden telling Congress no one should bet against America. 
  • Another shows Biden in Ukraine, meeting with President Volodymyr Zelensky in the middle of war zone.
  • And in a third ad that tells a story of rising wages and a return of manufacturing, Biden is “at the rope line giving a Black teenager a ‘go-get-’em-tiger’ tap on the chest.”

Biden is spending a significant sum of money on ads sooner than other incumbent presidents, including Barack Obama or Donald Trump, did. 

For instance, the campaign has bought a $25 million, 16-week buy overwhelmingly aimed at swing-state voters. It’s a major investment for Biden’s campaign, which had raised less than $23 million as of June 30, when the most recent campaign finance reports were due.

Trump’s team argues the early spending is an indication of weakness, even as Trump faces four criminal indictments.

“If you are incumbent president and you are spending $25 million more than a year ahead, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out you have a problem and need to fix it,” Chris LaCivita, an adviser to Trump’s campaign, told Michael.

‘He has got to kick it up a notch’

It’s not just Biden’s campaign that’s getting a head start trying to boost Biden’s image. A super PAC backing Biden, Future Forward USA Action, has already launched an aggressive ad campaign in nearly every battleground state, Politico’s Steven Shepard reported over the weekend. “And instead of going on the attack, as super PACs usually do, the ads are trying to boost Biden’s image,” he wrote. 

“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,” Michael writes. “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 ad blitz comes as Biden’s approval rating remains relatively low.

  • “I think the distance between what the president has accomplished and what the public perceives in terms of performance is disconcerting,” Margolis wrote in an email to Michael. “Right now the campaign has the opportunity to begin to tell their story, mostly without opposition advertising getting in their way.”
  • John Del Cecato, a Democratic ad-maker who worked for Obama and the 2020 campaign of Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, calls the strategy a ‘gamble worth making’ to raise Biden’s approval rating from the low 40s, which is on par with where both Obama and Trump were at this point in their reelection cycles, according to Gallup.”
  • “He has got to kick it up a notch,” he said.
What’s in the ads

There are “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.”

“In a fragmented media environment, it’s more important than ever for our campaign to be investing early and aggressively across platforms to deliver our message where voters are,” Biden campaign manager Julie Chavez Rodriguez said in a statement. “While Republicans duke it out and burn cash fighting each other, our campaign is reaching our general election audience early and consistently — which is critical for winning in November 2024.”

On the Hill

Democrats go on offense against impeachment push

The House returns from its six-week recess on Tuesday, and Democrats are preparing to push back against an expected Republican push to impeach Biden — or at least launch of an impeachment inquiry — that’s been gaining strength and seemingly increasingly impossible to avoid. 

Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.), the top Democrat on the House Oversight and Accountability Committee, put out a 14-page news release this morning methodically going through the allegations made by Oversight Committee Chairman James Comer (R-Ky.), who’s been leading the investigation into Biden’s son, Hunter Biden, that Comer has argued also implicates the president. None of the evidence suggests wrongdoing by Biden, Raskin argues.

Many Republican lawmakers have criticized the idea of impeaching Biden without evidence, and Raskin cites many of them — including Rep. Ken Buck (R-Colo.), a House Freedom Caucus member who praised House Republicans on MSNBC on Sunday for “developing really good information about Hunter Biden” but said there was “not a strong connection” to the president. 

The battle over whether to impeach comes as Biden is running for reelection and as Republicans are working to hold onto their fragile House majority, and Raskin argued that Democrats are winning the war for public opinion.

“Most Americans disapprove of House Republicans’ baseless and politically orchestrated propaganda campaign,” Raskin said in a statement to The Early. “We can take some pride in that because we have worked to puncture their lies.”

What we’re watching

At the White House

Biden will commemorate the 22nd anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks today at a military base in Anchorage, instead of at a memorial site in New York, Pennsylvania or Virginia. He is scheduled to deliver remarks to service members, first responders and their families on his way back to Washington after an overseas trip to India and Vietnam.

Meanwhile, Vice President Harris will mark the anniversary at the National September 11th Memorial in New York City and first lady Jill Biden will participate in a wreath-laying ceremony with Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Gen. Mark A. Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, in Arlington.

  • Did you know?: This isn’t the first time a president has not observed a 9/11 anniversary at one of the three memorial sites. Presidents George W. Bush and Obama observed the anniversaries of the attack on the White House lawn in 2005 and 2015, respectively, per the Associated Press

On Tuesday, Biden will convene a meeting of his “cancer cabinet” of administration officials charged with implementing his cancer moonshot initiative. He’ll headline a campaign fundraiser on Tuesday evening in McLean, Va.

In the Senate

Tuesday: The Senate is set to bring its first three government funding bills — Military Construction and Veterans Affairs; Agriculture; and Transportation, Housing and Urban Development — to the floor in one package. 

The Senate has worked in a bipartisan fashion on its annual spending work, a contrast to the House where the bills coming out of committee have been strictly partisan and Republican leadership are having trouble even finding agreement among Republicans to bring them to the floor.

This dynamic will play a major role throughout September and into the fall as the House and Senate are at odds over how to keep the government from shutting down.

Wednesday: It’s Artificial Intelligence Week in the Senate. 

The bipartisan AI working group led by Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) will convene “some of the top minds” in AI for the first AI Insight Forum.

The guest list includes: OpenAI CEO Sam Altman; Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates; Arvind Krishna, the chairman and CEO of IBM; Charles Rivkin, the chairman and CEO of the Motion Picture Association; Meredith Stiehm, the president of the striking Writers Guild of America; Mark Zuckerberg, the executive chairman and CEO of Meta; and Elon Musk, the CEO of Tesla and SpaceX who owns X, formerly known as Twitter.

In the House

The House returns Tuesday with Republicans facing internal tensions over how to avoid a government shutdown and whether to launch an impeachment inquiry into Biden.

This week they plan to bring up the defense funding bill through which the party is vowing to eliminate “wokeness” in the military. (They had to pull it and the agriculture programs spending bill from the floor before summer recess because of deep divisions in the party.) 

House Republicans will need a unifying message as they try to hash out their strategy to pass a short-term funding bill to keep the government open after the fiscal year ends on Sept. 30. 

From the courts

The Justice Department’s landmark antitrust trial against Google — the first of its kind in decades — over allegations that the tech giant illegally abused its monopoly over Web searches to throttle the competition kicks off Tuesday.

The 10-week trial “is part of a broad reappraisal in Washington of the common wisdom that the internet is open by nature and therefore can self-regulate through free-market competition,” per our colleagues Eva Dou and Gerrit De Vynck. “It reflects a sense of urgency among antitrust enforcers that, without action, Silicon Valley giants will transplant their established market dominance into the next generation of technology, potentially stifling innovation in futuristic fields such as artificial intelligence.”

  • The takeaway: “This case — and a follow-up case filed in January by the Justice Department — may play a role in determining the tech landscape for the coming decade and beyond,” our colleagues write. “While the court case focuses on Google’s search businesses, the outcome could affect whether the company can leverage its core product to dominate new sectors, such as AI, in coming years.”

Programming Note

Sens. Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) and Mike Rounds (R-S.D.), who are leading a bipartisan group to address the risks and benefits of artificial intelligence will join Leigh Ann on Washington Post Live on Tuesday at 12 p.m. Eastern. The duo will preview Wednesday’s congressional forum on AI policy and discuss efforts to regulate the rapidly evolving technology. Watch here

The campaign

All about the new Trump tax cuts

Our colleague Jeff Stein spoke to half a dozen people close to Trump about a proposed set of “aggressive” new tax cuts should he win a second term in office. Here’s what to expect: 

  • Deeper cuts to individual and corporate tax rates: “Trump’s advisers have pitched him on proposing a 15 percent corporate tax rate, which is what Trump had also initially endorsed for his 2017 tax law,” Stephen Moore, an outside economic adviser to Trump, told Jeff. “The plan would be coupled with ending corporate tax deductions and other tax breaks, including the new clean energy credits in the Inflation Reduction Act.”
  • A 10 percent tariff on all imports: “The cuts could be paid for, at least in theory, with a new 10 percent tariff on all imports to the United States that Trump has called for, which could raise hundreds of billions in revenue,” Jeff reports. 
  • Payments for U.S. households: Trump may propose using the revenue generated from the tariff to “send a dividend payment to U.S. consumers, similar to how the state of Alaska cuts a check every year to its residents from its oil revenue,” Newt Gingrich, who served as GOP speaker of the House and remains an outside adviser to the former president, told Jeff.

Meanwhile, Trump’s outside advisers have already begun drawing up a list of names for Treasury Secretary, Jeff reports. They include: 

  • David Malpass, the former World Bank president who announced his resignation amid controversy over his climate positions
  • Larry Kudlow, the cable news commentator who served as director of Trump’s White House National Economic Council
  • Arthur Laffer, a former Reagan adviser whom Trump awarded with the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2019

At the White House

Around the world in five days: Biden capped his Asia sojourn with his first-ever 24-hour stop in Vietnam Sunday.

He met with Vietnamese Prime Minister Phạm Minh Chính, President Võ Văn Thưởng and National Assembly Chairman Vuong Dinh Hue and visited the John Sidney McCain III Memorial in Hanoi on Monday before leaving to return to the United States.

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