Wisconsin’s place in the battleground states as Trump campaign pulls ad dollars away towards Pennsylvania, Florida

MADISON, Wis. — Vice President Joe Biden’s campaign over the airwaves in Wisconsin has taken on an outsized proportion of political ads as President Donald Trump’s campaign pulls their political ad dollars away. As polls from state and national sources continue to point to a steady Biden lead throughout the year, a report from the Wesleyan Media Project found spending from both Biden and pro-Biden groups heavily outnumbered Trump ads throughout the state in the past few weeks.

While the gap between Biden’s and Trump’s ad coverage in Wisconsin is pronounced, combined ad spending in the state is less than in the other five key battlegrounds. The smallest by population of the six where political ad spending is most pronounced, election experts say Wisconsin is increasingly seen as likely voting Democrat in November. While keeping the ground game strong–Trump campaigned in Janesville last Saturday and is expected to return to Milwaukee this weekend–the campaign has pulled much of its ad spending out of the state, opting to pour resources instead into what political science professors are must-wins for the campaign: Pennsylvania and Florida.

“The Biden campaign is competing at a much higher level across a broader range of states,” UW-Madison political science professor David Canon noted.

The digital battle attracts fewer dollars–but the divide also narrows, with Trump leading in that category until recently. According to the Wesleyan Media Project, Biden edged out Trump in Facebook ad dollars dumped in Wisconsin for the first two weeks of October at $830,116 to Trump’s $805,410. Throughout the campaign, Florida remains a top target for those digital dollars: In that same time period, Trump outspent Biden by almost $2 million in the state, coming in at a total $4 million. Since August, the campaigns have spent a combined $22 million in the state, with about $12 million coming from the Trump campaign.

It’s not even close: the highest number of ad dollars are being poured into two of the largest and most crucial of the country’s battleground states. The emphasis on Pennsylvania and Florida is the route that makes sense for a candidate who may lose Wisconsin and Michigan, UW-Madison political science professor Kenneth Mayer noted.

“When you think of the states that are really highly competitive, Wisconsin’s not really there, based on the polls,” he said. The race to 270 electoral college votes can come without Wisconsin and Michigan’s combined 26 votes, but it would make wins in Pennsylvania and Florida mandatory, Mayer explained. Conversely, if he loses in PA and FL, he’d have to win every other battleground state he won in 2016, including WI and MI–but Mayer says that a voting pattern that would flip Pennsylvania back to blue would also likely result in Wisconsin and Michigan losses.

“It’s a function of size and competitiveness,” he said.

Across the board, the 2020 election cycle is shattering fundraising records, Canon said. Through their respective online digital fundraising platforms, ActBlue and WinRed, Democrats and Republicans are raising millions in small dollar donations. Democrats, however, have the upper hand there: In the third quarter, they outraised Republicans on their digital platform by almost 3 to 1, with $1.5 billion raised at an average of $47 a donation.

“These are definitely the small donors,” Canon noted. “We haven’t ever seen this level and breadth of donation to the Democrat Party ever, in the history of fundraising.”

Within Wisconsin, political donors to Democrat causes outraise–and outnumber–Republicans. Both parties have their billionaire backers; two Wisconsin-based heavyweight conservative donors to GOP outside spending groups include Diane Hendricks, owner of the Beloit-based ABC Supply, and Richard Uihlein–Illinois-businessman, Wisconsin landowner, and owner of the Pleasant Prairie-based supply company Uline. The Center for Responsive Politics, pulling data from the FEC, indicates Wisconsinites overall have spent $56.5 million in the 2020 campaign cycle on federal candidates, parties, outside spenders and PACs. 52% of the money sent to either candidates or parties went to Democrats.* That’s a flip from the 2016 cycle, when 60% raised went to Republicans. (An important note–fundraising sharply increases in the final weeks before a general election, so 2020’s current total raised could still easily exceed 2016’s cycle, which raised $62.4 million.)