It’s not a major election year, but voters in Missouri, Wisconsin and Indiana — three states with Democratic U.S. senators Republicans hope to oust next year — are starting to see campaign-style ads telling them to support Republicans’ new tax overhaul attempt.
“People are sick of politics. I am too. But fixing our broken tax system isn’t about politics, it’s about helping people,” the narrator says in one new ad from Americans for Prosperity. “It means average Americans will have more to spend on what’s important to them.”
“Eighty percent of the tax cuts go to the top 1 percent,” counters Priorities USA, a liberal-leaning group, in its own new ad running in several key states including Nevada and Arizona, where two Republican senators are up for re-election next year.
The group’s ad features middle-class families and workers who claim that the tax cuts will only benefit the wealthy and corporate America while the middle class will end up paying more.
As action on Capitol Hill heats up on tax reform, deep-pocketed interest groups are rushing to reinforce senators and go on the attack, hoping to sway Americans back home, and thereby shape the debate in Washington.
The biggest targets are swing state lawmakers from both parties who are up for election in 2018.
The AFP ads are part of a $4.5 million campaign running on cable and local airwaves in addition to a digital and social media platform during the next three weeks, targeting Sens. Claire McCaskill of Missouri, Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin and Joe Donnelly of Indiana.
A spokesman for AFP says taxpayers will punish senators who fail to support the GOP’s tax overhaul effort.
“We’re in touch with millions of hard-working taxpayers that want assurance from Sens. Donnelly, McCaskill and Baldwin that we can count on them to support this plan. If not, there will be consequences,” Levi Russell, spokesman for AFP, said.
But liberal groups say the tax plan the GOP is pursuing is tilted toward the wealthy and corporations, while lower-income Americans will suffer.
“A lot of families like ours will pay more,” says one man in the Priorities USA ad.
A different man calls out President Trump directly, saying “no early morning tweet” can make the plan any better.
Such ad campaigns used to be standard for many major debates on Capitol Hill, but with media so fragmented thanks to the rise of the internet and viewership split between so many options, big TV campaigns aren’t as frequent.
The tax issue, though, is drawing in big players.
“We have a wide array of tactics available to us and utilize the most effective strategy on a case-by-case basis. In this instance, we decided that a TV campaign followed by digital ads would be the most effective strategy to communicate about Trump’s plan to raise taxes on millions of middle-class families while giving a massive tax cut to himself and the richest Americans,” said Priorities USA spokesman Josh Schwerin.
His group also spent “hundreds of thousands” on health care ads across the country and in individual states.
Chris Massicotte, chief operating officer at DSPolitical, said audiences are increasingly getting their information from digital sources, so an online strategy is important.
“[A] tax debate reaching the right audience with a high enough frequency will require a strong digital investment along with television,” he added.
Republican leaders are desperate for a win after several failed policy attempts this year, including repealing and replacing Obamacare. Some conservative groups are so frustrated that they have called on Senate leadership to “step aside” so new leaders can come forward and hopefully accomplish something like tax reform.
But congressional leaders say they’re more confident Republicans can rally around this issue than others like health care or immigration.
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