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The coronavirus campaign: Republicans and Democrats spend big in Florida

The Trump-aligned America First Action PAC announced an $18.5 million broadcast television ad buy in Florida, split between the Tampa and Orlando media markets. The Democratic-aligned House Majority PAC announced plans to spend $3.3 million in the Miami media market.
President Donald Trump speaks during a campaign rally in Charlotte, N.C., Monday, March 2, 2020.
President Donald Trump speaks during a campaign rally in Charlotte, N.C., Monday, March 2, 2020. [ MIKE MCCARN | AP ]
Published Apr. 10, 2020

WASHINGTON — Political campaigning may be mostly on pause amid the coronavirus pandemic but one thing remains constant: Democrats and Republicans spending millions on TV ads in Florida.

On Tuesday, the Democratic-aligned House Majority PAC announced plans to spend $3.3 million in the Miami media market, home to Democratic Reps. Debbie Mucarsel-Powell and Donna Shalala. And on Thursday, the Trump-aligned America First Action PAC announced an $18.5 million broadcast television ad buy in Florida, split between the Tampa and Orlando media markets.

The buys are commonplace during presidential election years in swing states like Florida. But the early outlay of money in the middle of a pandemic and government-induced recession that has seen advertising spending decrease nationwide allows deep-pocketed super PACs, which can spend unlimited amounts of money, to reserve TV time for the final weeks before Election Day at cheaper rates.

“America First is making the Florida and North Carolina reservations because we are confident we can secure inventory at the best possible rates in these crucial battleground states,” America First President Brian O. Walsh said in a statement. “We will make further decisions in May.”

America First is solely focused on reelecting President Donald Trump, and it announced plans to spend a total of $36.6 million in Florida, North Carolina, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. Florida, a state that Trump almost assuredly must win if he wants a second term in the White House, received the largest share.

Other super PACs are spending money to bolster former Vice President Joe Biden, who essentially clinched the Democratic nomination this week when Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders dropped out of the race.

Priorities USA, a super PAC that began backing Biden after his Super Tuesday victories, is spending $8 million in Florida, Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania on digital ads that criticize Trump’s coronavirus response. Unite The Country, the first super PAC to back Biden, has also spent millions criticizing Trump and recently announced plans to raise at least $175 million to defeat Trump in partnership with American Bridge, a liberal advocacy group.

Super PACs are not allowed to coordinate with the candidate’s campaign.

The $3.3 million being spent in the Miami media market by House Majority PAC, a group aligned with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to elect Democrats to the House of Representatives, is money that can be used to help Mucarsel-Powell, who is running against Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez, or Shalala, who is running against former journalist Maria Elvira Salazar.

“The 2020 election will be unlike any before it, presenting unique challenges and circumstances that make it even more important for our organization to take early steps that enable us to protect and expand the House Majority,” House Majority PAC Executive Director Abby Curran Horrell said in a statement.

House Majority PAC’s Miami buy is part of a $51 million nationwide spending spree across 29 media markets. In 2018, the group spent $2.6 million on Mucarsel-Powell’s successful campaign against Republican Carlos Curbelo.

Mucarsel-Powell’s race is seen as more competitive than Shalala’s, but the group can decide at a later date how much of the $3.3 million should be designated for either race. Mucarsel-Powell ended the last fundraising quarter with $2.1 million on hand, the highest amount of any House Democrat from Florida. Gimenez has not released fundraising totals since entering the race in January. Both will report fundraising totals next week, though both candidates have stopped actively raising money during the pandemic.

The House Majority PAC’s Republican counterpart also released its initial ad buys this week, but Miami was not included in the Congressional Leadership Fund’s $43 million buy targeting about 30 incumbent Democrats across the country.

In 2018, the Congressional Leadership fund spent about $3 million to support Curbelo and $275,000 to support Salazar. CLF spokesperson Will Reinert said the initial decision to exclude Miami doesn’t mean the group won’t invest there in the future.

“This is just the first wave of advertising buys, so stay tuned,” Reinert said.

But Democrats said CLF’s decision to exclude Mucarsel-Powell from its initial 30-candidate target list shows that flipping her seat isn’t their top priority. Republicans need to flip 17 seats in November to regain control of the House of Representatives.

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