An outside group aligned with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell is launching a seven-figure wave of TV and radio ads this week aimed to build opposition to S. 1 (117), Democrats’ election reform legislation.
One Nation, the political nonprofit, is spending nearly $1.9 million across five states over the next 10 days, with the ads launching Tuesday to coincide with the legislation being marked up in a Senate committee. The ads are the first spending from the outside group so far in 2021, demonstrating Republicans’ focus on opposing the election legislation, which is a top priority cosponsored by nearly the entire Democratic caucus.
The ads are running in three states that are top targets for Republicans in the 2022 midterms — TV and radio ads in New Hampshire, TV ads in Arizona and radio ads in Nevada — as well as two states, West Virginia and Montana, represented by moderate Democratic senators. Georgia, another top midterm Senate battleground, is not among this initial ad campaign, though other GOP groups have spent on this issue there.
“We think this week’s markup in the Senate Rules Committee will be an important inflection point in senators’ understanding of the issue, in public awareness of S. 1,” Steven Law, the president of One Nation, said in an interview, referencing the bill’s official title. “This advocacy blitz, which starts on Tuesday, is designed to amplify all of that."
Democrats have made the bill a top priority for their party, and Majority Leader Chuck Schumer has said “failure is not an option” on the legislation, though there is likely to be internal debate over the path forward. The House passed their version of the legislation in March, and Tuesday’s mark-up is the first action on it in the upper chamber. Democrats have highlighted the legislation as a counter to the recent wave of restrictive voting measures passed by Republican-controlled state legislatures.
The new ads from One Nation are likely just the first wave of spending on the issue from the group. The TV ads focus on two aspects in particular, ballot collection by third-party groups and public funds to match small-dollar political contributions. In the TV ad running in New Hampshire, for example, a narrator says views should tell Democratic Sen. Maggie Hassan “we need safe and secure elections, not more wasteful spending. Oppose S. 1.” In Nevada, the radio ad mentioning Democratic Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto says the legislation would give “more money to politicians and more power to bureaucrats,” a preview of Republicans’ messaging campaign against it.
In Arizona, one ad criticizes Democratic Sen. Mark Kelly, who is on the ballot next year, over his support of the Senate legislation; a second ad praises Democratic Sen. Kyrsten Sinema for her opposition to ending the Senate legislative filibuster.
Other Republican groups, including the National Republican Senatorial Committee and Heritage Action, have also invested in ads opposing the legislation. Democratic groups have also spent on the issue, with End Citizens United and Let America Vote last week launching a $12 million campaign praising the legislation as a bill to end special influence on elections ahead of the Senate mark-up.
Law, a former McConnell chief of staff who also leads Republicans’ top Senate super PAC, said he initially viewed a campaign against the legislation as aiming to slow down a top Democratic priority, but that he now sees it as a “real climate-setter for this year and next, in terms of defining what the current majority in Congress is focused on."
"This won’t be our last engagement on this issue,” Law said. “I think this is really the beginning of a long march, not a single skirmish on the legislation."