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In context: Democrats’ TV ads from the month of August
Democratic presidential candidates are introduced before the second of two primary debates hosted by CNN on July 31, 2019, in Detroit. (AP/Osorio) Democratic presidential candidates are introduced before the second of two primary debates hosted by CNN on July 31, 2019, in Detroit. (AP/Osorio)

Democratic presidential candidates are introduced before the second of two primary debates hosted by CNN on July 31, 2019, in Detroit. (AP/Osorio)

Bill McCarthy
By Bill McCarthy August 28, 2019

As the third round of Democratic primary debates approaches, a handful of presidential hopefuls have taken their messages to the airwaves, running TV ads on cable networks and in bellwether states such as Iowa and New Hampshire.

Former Vice President Joe Biden talked about health care, California Sen. Kamala Harris described her mother, and former housing and urban development secretary Julián Castro condemned the anti-immigrant sentiment behind the shooting in El Paso, Texas. 

Broadly speaking, the TV ads that Democrats aired in August appealed to voters’ emotions, so there weren’t many claims for us to fact-check. Instead, we decided to put them in context.

Joe Biden: "Bones"

Biden released two, minute-long TV ads in August.

The first ad, released Aug. 20 and titled "Bones," points to Biden’s achievements working with former President Barack Obama as proof that he can "restore the soul of the nation."

"We know in our bones this election is different," the ad’s narrator says. "The stakes are higher, the threat more serious. We have to beat Donald Trump, and all the polls agree Joe Biden is the strongest Democrat to do the job."

Biden has largely dominated the national polls, but saying "all the polls agree" he’s the strongest Democrat is an exaggeration. A number of state polls have shown him trailing other candidates.

The ad also lists highlights from Biden’s tenure as vice president, saying he and Obama "worked to save the American economy, to pass the historic Affordable Care Act protecting over 100 million Americans with preexisting conditions."

In 2014, we rated Obama’s claim that the United States had "recovered (from the recession) faster and come farther than almost any other advanced country" as True.

We also reported that the ACA protects between 60 and 160 million people from being denied health insurance coverage due to pre-existing conditions. When Obama said "up to half of all Americans have a pre-existing condition," we rated his claim Mostly True.

Joe Biden: "Personal"

Biden’s second ad, "Personal," was released Aug. 27 and draws on a pair of misfortunes that affected members of his family.

Biden, the ad’s narrator, recounts how health care helped his sons Hunter and Beau recover from a 1972 car accident that took the lives of his wife and daughter, and how it helped the late Beau manage a terminal brain cancer diagnosis in 2013.

"The fact of the matter is, health care is personal to me," Biden says in the video. "Obamacare is personal to me. When I see the president try to tear it down and others propose to replace it and start over, that's personal to me, too."

President Donald Trump campaigned on a promise to repeal and replace the ACA, and the GOP took a slice off it when they passed a tax cut that opened the door for legal challenges to the law’s individual mandate. But the act lives on for now, so Trump’s promise is stalled.

Julián Castro

In the wake of the mass shooting targeting immigrants in El Paso, Castro put out an ad criticizing Trump

The ad was released Aug. 13 and aired Aug. 14 on "Fox and Friends" in Bedminster, N.J., where Trump was spending the week. In a tweet, Castro said it was meant to remind Trump that his "words have consequences."

In the ad, set in an empty Iowa warehouse, Castro blames Trump for the El Paso massacre.

"President Trump, you referred to countries as shitholes," Castro says. "You urged American congresswomen to ‘go back’ to where they came from. You called immigrants rapists."

"As we saw in El Paso, Americans were killed because you stoked the fire of racists. Innocent people were shot down because they look different from you, because they look like me, they look like my family."

Castro’s description of Trump’s past statements is largely accurate, but the connection between Trump and the El Paso shooting is unsubstantiated. Democrats have pointed out similarities between Trump’s rhetoric and the anti-immigrant language found in a manifesto allegedly linked to the gunman.

During a Jan. 11 meeting about immigrants from Haiti, El Salvador and African countries, Trump reportedly asked, "Why are we having all these people from shithole countries come here?"

At the time, we looked at how the United States deals with immigrants from afflicted nations. We found that the United States has a mixed record of both accepting and refusing such migrants. 

Trump also tweeted that four Democratic congresswomen of color should "go back and help fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came." When the crowd at one of his rallies chanted "send her back" in reference to Rep. Ilhan Omar, Trump did not stop them.

Finally, Trump has said some of the immigrants crossing the southern border are rapists. But he’s never said "all Mexicans are rapists," as Virginia Sen. Tim Kaine once claimed.

We examined the president’s rhetoric on immigration after the El Paso shooting. We also debunked misinformation and fact-checked several statements related to the incident.

Kirsten Gillibrand: "Imagine"

New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand launched two TV ads in August. The first, "Imagine," came out Aug. 9.

"Imagine an America where harmony displaces hate," the ad’s narrator says. "Imagine a leader driven by compassion, brave enough to take on the impossible, who looks beyond herself to do what’s best for us."

Gillibrand’s America, according to the ad, would protect the planet and provide universal health care, among other things.

Gillibrand has claimed legislative victories in the Trump era and pushed for single-payer health care. When she said she "ran on Medicare for All" in 2005, we rated her statement True.

Kirsten Gillibrand: "I Promise"

Gillibrand released her latest ad, "I Promise," on Aug. 20. (Editor's note: Gillibrand dropped out of the race for president on Aug. 28 with an announcement video posted to Twitter.)

The ad shows clips of Trump making promises that it says were ultimately broken. Here are the statements from Trump that it highlights:

  • "If I’m elected, you won’t lose one plant. You’ll have plants coming into this country. You’re going to have jobs again."

  • "You’ll be seeing drug prices falling very substantially."

  • "We will build the next generation of roads, bridges and railroads."

Gillibrand then appears and says, "As president, I’ll take on the fights that no one else will."

Trump’s claims are similar to campaign promises we’ve been tracking on the Trump-O-Meter. For example, Trump kept his promise to keep a Carrier plant in Indiana, although the company laid off employees to stay. His pledge to bring back manufacturing remains in the works, and his promise to invest $550 billion in infrastructure has been stalled.

We’ve also fact-checked many related claims from Trump since he took office. Here’s a sample:

  • Mostly False: "We hadn’t had a (car) plant built in years — in decades, actually. And now we have many plants being built all throughout the United States."

  • False: Says Pennsylvania chemical plant and Louisiana liquified natural gas plant "could never have happened" without his administration.

  • False: "U.S. Steel just announced that they are building six new steel mills."

  • Half True: "Companies are moving back, creating job growth the likes of which our country has not seen in a very long time."

  • Mostly False: "Drug prices are coming down, first time in 51 years because of my administration."

Kamala Harris

Harris released her first TV ad, "Me, Maya, and Mom," on Aug. 8.

Harris, the ad’s narrator, recalls her mother’s efforts to provide for her and her younger sister Maya as a way to introduce her "3AM Agenda," a plan to support American families. 

"She’d work all day, then pour her whole heart into Maya and me when she got home, and then after we were fed and in bed, our mother would sit up trying to figure out how to make it all work," Harris says in the video. "That’s something most Americans know all too well."

She says her plan would provide "the biggest middle-class tax cut in a generation, another $500 in your pocket every month paid for by repealing Donald Trump’s tax breaks for the top 1% and the richest corporations in America," as well as universal health care and equal pay for women.

Not all of the tax cuts Trump signed went to the wealthy; the middle class received some benefit as well. We’ve fact-checked two statements claiming the bulk of the tax cut’s benefits went to the top 1%, rating both statements Half True.

Other candidates

Other candidates have advertised on different platforms. South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg targeted voters over the radio, while Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders seem to be prioritizing digital advertising.

Billionaire Tom Steyer circulated two TV ads in July, and Rep. Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii and former Rep. John Delaney or Maryland have also aired TV ads since entering the race.

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Our Sources

Joe Biden on YouTube, "Bones | Joe Biden for President," Aug. 20, 2019

Joe Biden on YouTube, "Personal Joe Biden for President," Aug. 27, 2019

Julián Castro on Twitter, Aug. 14, 2019

Julián Castro on Twitter, Aug. 13, 2019

Kirsten Gillibrand on YouTube, "Imagine," Aug. 9, 2019

Kirsten Gillibrand on YouTube, "I Promise," Aug. 20, 2019

Kamala Harris on YouTube, "Me, Maya, and Mom," Aug. 8, 2019

Tom Steyer on YouTube, "Money Where His Mouth Is," July 23, 2019

Tom Steyer on YouTube, "Keeping the Promise," July 23, 2019

FiveThirtyEight, "National 2020 Democratic Presidential Primary Polls," Aug. 27, 2019

Politico, "Buttigieg launches radio ads targeting rural Iowa," Aug. 20, 2019

Politico, "Gillibrand launches TV ads in bid to stay on debate stage," Aug. 9, 2019

The Washington Post, "What’s inside the hate-filled manifesto linked to the alleged El Paso shooter," Aug. 4, 2019

Donald J. Trump on Twitter, July 14, 2019

Politico, "Elizabeth Warren shuns conventional wisdom for a new kind of campaign," July 9, 2019

AdWeek, "Bernie Sanders Is Following Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s Lead With ‘TV-Quality’ Digital Campaign Ads," May 30, 2019

The Washington Post, "Trump derides protections for immigrants from ‘shithole’ countries," Jan. 12, 2018

PolitiFact, "Trump falsely takes credit for two large industrial projects in Louisiana and Pennsylvania," Aug. 16, 2019

PolitiFact, "Fact-checking claims about the mass shootings in El Paso and Dayton," Aug. 9, 2019

PolitiFact, "Donald Trump didn’t talk about exterminating Latinos," Aug. 8, 2019

PolitiFact, "Fact-checking misinformation after the El Paso, Dayton shootings," Aug. 5, 2019

PolitiFact, "Trump said when crowd chanted 'send her back' about Omar he stopped it. Video shows otherwise," July 19, 2019

PolitiFact, "Donald Trump exaggerates turnaround on US car plants, ignores closures," July 9, 2019

PolitiFact, "Gillibrand claims legislative victories in Trump era," June 21, 2019

PolitiFact, "Gillibrand points to early support for Medicare for all," May 22, 2019

PolitiFact, "Fact-checking Donald Trump's claim that drug prices are going down," May 22, 2019

PolitiFact, "Do 70% of the benefits from Trump's tax law benefit the wealthiest 1%, as Sen. Sherrod Brown says?" March 5, 2019

PolitiFact, "Trump-O-Meter: Invest $550 billion in infrastructure and create an infrastructure fund," last updated Jan. 7, 2019

PolitiFact, "Trump-O-Meter: Repeal Obamacare," last updated Jan. 7, 2019

PolitiFact, "No, U.S. Steel is not opening six new mills as Donald Trump said," Aug. 2, 2018

PolitiFact, "Nevada TV ad cherry-picks tax cut benefits to top 1%," July 10, 2018

PolitiFact, "Donald Trump’s ‘s---hole countries’ remark and its policy history," Jan. 12, 2018

PolitiFact, "Trump-O-Meter: Bring back manufacturing," last updated Dec. 27, 2017

PolitiFact, "Trump wrongly says end of mandate is 'essentially' Obamacare repeal," Dec. 21, 2017

PolitiFact, "How strong has job growth been on Donald Trump's watch?" Sept. 20, 2017

PolitiFact, "Trump-O-Meter: Save the Carrier plant in Indiana," last updated June 27, 2017

PolitiFact, "Tim Kaine falsely says Trump said ‘all Mexicans are rapists,’" Aug. 8, 2016

PolitiFact, "Carly Fiorina says ‘Obamacare isn't helping anyone,’" Nov. 11, 2015

PolitiFact, "Obama says half of Americans have a pre-existing condition," Sept. 17, 2013

Browse the Truth-O-Meter

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In context: Democrats’ TV ads from the month of August