Trump’s top strategist reboots campaign with focus on early-voting states

Trump’s top strategist reboots campaign with focus on early-voting states

August 1, 2020

President Donald Trump’s campaign is reorienting its summer TV advertising strategy to focus on states that will begin voting sooner than others, after the reelection went dark on TV in an unusual move this week, leaving the airwaves to Joe Biden.

Trump’s campaign will begin running ads Monday in a cluster of states ahead of the early voting period. The move represents a shift for the campaign, which for months has been spending heavily in a wide array of battlegrounds. Bill Stepien, Trump’s newly appointed campaign manager, has spent recent days reevaluating the advertising strategy as the president gears up for the final three months of the election.

Trump previewed the forthcoming offensive in a Friday afternoon tweet, writing: “We are doing a new ad campaign on Sleepy Joe Biden that will be out on Monday. He has been brought even further LEFT than Crazy Bernie Sanders ever thought possible.”

Trump advisers declined to specify which states the ads would be focused on, but there are several key battlegrounds at the front of the early voting calendar. Either in-person or mail-in voting will begin in Florida, Michigan, North Carolina and Pennsylvania by the end of September.

The commercials will also be backed by a national ad buy on cable and broadcast, Trump advisers said. Stepien used a Wednesday evening staff meeting to preview several upcoming spots.

The move comes at a pivotal moment for the president, who finds himself trailing Biden across the electoral map.

Stepien has been undertaking a broader review of the campaign’s operation, including its budgeting and hiring. There has been a focus on TV buying, which comprises a substantial portion of any presidential campaign’s overall spending.

“Everything on the campaign needs to be purpose driven and goal-oriented — that goes for the political operation, the communications operation, and most importantly ad buying,” Stepien said in a Thursday interview. “It would be malpractice if we didn’t reexamine that we are spending money in the right places on the right message.”

“We are making the decision to use the right data to make the right political and spending decisions by way of our advertising,” he added.

Since taking over the campaign two weeks ago, Stepien has quietly implemented changes. He has taken a particular interest in the budget and has tasked deputy campaign manager Justin Clark to review spending moving forward.

Stepien has also altered the campaign’s previously flat structure, empowering a few deputies to communicate directly with staff. Stepien has been holding daily 8 a.m. meetings with a small core of senior advisers.

Stepien, a former top aide to ex-New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, has also intensified the campaign’s battleground state outreach to battleground states and has tapped Nick Trainer to make an array of political decisions. During the Wednesday evening staff meeting, Trainer led a presentation on Trump’s path to 270 electoral votes.

With Trump trailing, Stepien has pushed staffers to embrace the mindset that every day matters and to consider if what they’re doing at any given moment is getting votes.

Part of his focus has been on ensuring that the campaign has enough money to fund a massive fall television barrage. The reelection effort has spent nearly $94 million on TV ads so far this year and has another $146 million booked through Election Day, according to Advertising Analytics.

The new commercials are expected to echo by-now familiar themes, casting Biden as a Washington insider who is beholden to liberals.

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