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Potential candidates for president in 2024 began running ads as early as early 2021, mostly on social media.
Among those advertising are Republicans Donald Trump, Mike Pence, Ron DeSantis and Mike Pompeo, and Democrat Gavin Newsom.
The ads have emphasized freedom — both promoting it and claiming that the opposing party is threatening it.
As distant as the 2024 contest might seem, former President Donald Trump and other potential contenders for the White House have already been running ads to raise or refresh their national profiles.
Some ads came during the final weeks of the Nov. 8 midterm elections. Others have been running ads since 2021.
These ads, from four Republicans and one Democrat, share at least two themes: defending freedom and attacking the opposing party’s policies.
On the Republican side, Trump, former Vice President Mike Pence and former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo warned of threats to freedom, such as restrictions on religious expression. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis invoked "Freedom Headquarters" as the setting for one of his TV spots; the ad focused on attacking the news media.
President Joe Biden said as recently as Nov. 9, "my intention is that I run again." His intentions may be one reason there is less activity on the Democratic side. But California Gov. Gavin Newsom has run ads with a national scope, claiming that DeSantis and other Republicans have attacked freedom by restricting abortion access.
The ads are concentrated more on social media than on television.
Facebook ads are much cheaper than broadcast ads and tend to be targeted to certain groups of people, said Kathleen Searles, a political communication professor at Louisiana State University.
"Part of what we’re seeing now with these early ads may be a sort of trial balloon, to see how much response candidates are receiving and what ads are getting better engagement," she said.
Advertising this far out from a presidential election usually introduces the candidates and aims to emphasize issues that will define them, Searles said.
"What is less typical is how negative these ads are" at this stage, Searles said.
Michael Cornfield, research director of the Global Center for Political Management at George Washington University, said presidential contenders seek four things in ads:
attention of a targeted audience;
credibility with respect to the office they seek;
to provide new information that aligns with the story they’re promoting;
to frame choices for voters.
Here’s a look at what potential contenders are saying, along with fact-checks of some of their points.
In August, Trump released a nearly four-minute-long ad decrying a failing nation and promising to return it to "greatness."
The video began with Trump’s voice saying over the sounds of a storm: "We are a nation in decline. We are a failing nation." Then, Trump is at a lectern, lamenting inflation, stock market losses and high energy costs.
"We are a nation that surrendered in Afghanistan," he said, and one that has "weaponized its law enforcement against the opposing political party."
The ad omits that Trump set the U.S. troop removal from Afghanistan in motion. Biden completed the withdrawal.
Republicans have claimed that Democrats used the FBI politically to "raid" Trump’s Florida home. However, the National Archives worked with Trump’s representatives since 2021 on the return of records he took from the White House, long before FBI agents served a warrant to search Trump’s home in August 2022.
Searles said Trump ran long videos during his previous presidential runs with a theme that "is very gloom and doom." Ads with "anger appeals" are effective in motivating voters, she said.
On Facebook and Instagram, Trump’s Save America political action committee has run ads promoting his rallies. The PAC has also run "live polls" that ask people whether they would vote for Trump. People responding to the polls are prompted to submit contact information for text and email messages from the committee.
Searles said that Trump’s campaigns have excelled with "nudge ads" that use contact information to solicit contributions.
In January, the Save America ads on Facebook implored: "Donate now to impeach Biden!" Clicking on the ad led to a donation page, but the page didn’t say how those funds would bring about an impeachment. Those ads were largely seen by people 65 years old and older, according to Facebook metrics.
In an ABC News interview that aired Nov. 14, Pence said he is giving "prayerful consideration" to running for president and said, "so be it," if both he and Trump decided to run.
Pence in April 2021 introduced his Advancing American Freedom advocacy group via ads on Facebook and Instagram.
Over images of Pence, a narrator said freedoms and the American dream "are in jeopardy." The narrator also said Pence will push policies to "fight for economic prosperity" and protect "our conservative values."
A three-minute ad on this theme shows a clip of Pence saying: "There is a cure for what ails America, and that is leadership committed to American freedom."
Pence in some ads warned that many in the "Democrat administration and Congress" are "willing to take away our freedom and cancel anyone that doesn’t stand in line." He criticized what he described as Democrats’ support of tax hikes and defunding the police.
Cornfield said Pence's "arguably heroic refusal to go along with the Jan. 6 insurrection plot" going unmentioned "is not surprising, since his primary audience consists of Republicans, a majority of whom embrace the election denial falsehood."
DeSantis easily won re-election to a second term Nov. 8. During the campaign, he wouldn’t commit to serving another four years in Florida.
Some of DeSantis’ ads portrayed him as tough. He released a nearly two-minute black-and-white video based on "So God Made a Farmer," a speech by the late radio broadcaster and conservative Paul Harvey.
The video began with the narrator saying: "And on the eighth day, God looked down on his planned paradise and said, ‘I need a protector,’ so God made a fighter." The narrator repeated "so God made a fighter" over images of DeSantis. The ad alluded to DeSantis’ decision to keep Florida businesses and schools open during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The black-and-white images "suggest authenticity and historic significance," Cornfield said. "Where the farmer keeps the farm going, DeSantis keeps Florida and, by implication, America going by tackling woke-ism head-on."
DeSantis’ campaign also launched a 60-second ad on TV and social media in which DeSantis wore a flight suit, evoking Tom Cruise in the "Top Gun" movies. The ad opened with text that tells viewers the ad is set in Florida, "Freedom Headquarters."
DeSantis in the ad talked about "taking on the corporate media." Clips show him at news conferences shutting down and lecturing reporters as they asked questions.
Ready for Ron, a political action committee seeking to draft DeSantis to run for president, in May released a TV ad that alternately showed speeches of DeSantis and Ronald Reagan, the late Republican president. Ready for Ron has also run ads on Facebook and Instagram urging people to sign a petition to get DeSantis to run for president.
Pompeo, who served as CIA director and then secretary of state in the Trump administration, has said he will decide by spring whether to run for president, whether Trump does.
Pompeo’s Champion American Values PAC in June ran an ad with Pompeo saying, "I’m Mike Pompeo, and this is who we are. Together, let’s make sure that our religious freedom, and our right to pray, are never canceled."
In one ad, Pompeo noted his own military service and alluded to political debate over gender identity issues.
"We have to walk away from this radical left ideology, we cannot let it penetrate our military. The fight is on," Pompeo said.
Cornfield said targeting the "radical left" as "the primary enemies of America is catnip for the Make America Great Again segment of the Republican electorate."
On Nov. 9, the day after the midterm elections, Pompeo started running ads on Facebook that attacked Democrats on inflation and border policies. The ads largely targeted states with early presidential voting contests, such as Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina.
Newsom in early November said "it's not my ambition" to run for president. But the California Democrat, who like DeSantis was on his way to winning re-election, ran ads addressing issues beyond his home state.
In an ad timed for the Fourth of July, Newsom assailed Florida Republicans. "Freedom? It’s under attack in your state," Newsom said, as images of DeSantis appeared. "Your Republican leaders, they’re banning books, making it harder to vote, restricting speech in classrooms, even criminalizing women and doctors."
We found in reviewing an ad from another California Democrat, U.S. Rep. Eric Swalwell, that a few Trump-supporting "MAGA Republicans," but not all Republicans, want women arrested for abortion.
Newsom this summer attacked GOP Texas Gov. Greg Abbott with newspaper ads that criticized Texas’ abortion ban.
Newsom ran social media ads nationally criticizing "bullies intent on taking away your freedoms." In one ad, which ran in California, Florida, Texas and other states, Newsom identifies DeSantis and Abbott as the bullies.
Newsom "was essentially flexing, demonstrating his potential strength as a leader of a post-Biden Democratic Party," Cornfield said.
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