Why The Trump Campaign Has Pulled TV Ads In Arizona
LAUREN GILGER: If you've watched TV in the last few days, you might have noticed something missing from your slate of commercials: President Donald Trump. The president's campaign has pulled at least a week's worth — and hundreds of thousands of dollars’ worth — of TV ads in Arizona and elsewhere. The move comes with less than 60 days to go before the November election and gives his Democratic challenger, former Vice President Joe Biden, key time to fill the airwaves with his own message to voters. The move has kicked up speculation from the left that the Trump campaign is giving up on Arizona, once a [Republican] stalwart. But our next guest says not so fast. Lisa James is a Republican political consultant, and I spoke with her more about it.
LISA JAMES: So it's interesting because Arizona has received more attention than any other presidential campaign in even recent history. So they've been on the ground for a long time. The president's been here multiple times. For me, I think this is just they could use this money in a different place if they needed it for the time being. I mean, they only took a week down so they could be, you know, be back up and running next week if necessary. We don't start voting for another, well, a little under 30 days now. I think they've got some time. I think, you know, in addition, this president has used his direct messaging via Twitter, for better or for worse, and even using the media to get his message out more effectively than any campaign in recent history. So the fact that he's not buying time is not a huge concern at this point.
GILGER: Right. There is this, this idea that this president in particular has a very large megaphone to begin with, right? Like his campaign last time around didn't spend nearly as much as his opponent and managed to gather a lot of attention on the media.
JAMES: Exactly. He was masterful. And it's going to be studied in every political science and even PR and communications classes for, you know, the foreseeable future. And how did he do this? And could anyone else replicate that? He does have a unique way and manages to get the media to follow him and really hasn't had to spend the money that other campaigns have had to do to get their message out.
GILGER: But while we're talking about money, that does seem to be an issue that's popping up with the Trump campaign right now. He used to have a big spending advantage over Joe Biden. That's not the case anymore, it's being reported. And Trump campaign officials have acknowledged that they're trying to conserve money at this point in the campaign. How big of a challenge is that one, where, you know, 60 days away from the election?
JAMES: You know, the amount of money being spent on this election nationally is mind-blowing for both sides. And I think also you have to look at what else is happening in our state. Who else is spending money? We've got it, propositions spending a lot of money. We've got the McSally campaign that's taking up a lot of airspace. So I think they're looking at that, looking at what it costs to run. Phoenix is not a cheap media market and most of our state is covered by the Phoenix media market. So I think that looking at that and looking at how else can they get their message out and who is on the ground giving their message for them — and they do have a stellar ground game here that they've been running, you know, for more than a year now.
GILGER: I've heard that said, like, that the ground game is more important. What does exactly that mean to us who are not, like, in the political spectrum?
JAMES: Sure. So that's the people out knocking on doors, the people making the phone calls, that one-on-one communication with voters. So it's how they've organized right down to the precinct level and really having people who know people go out and be their messenger for them.
GILGER: So let's talk, Lisa, about how this is looking right now for the president in Arizona. A Democrat, of course, hasn't won the vote for president in Arizona for a very long time. But Joe Biden, it looks like in the polls, is, some say quite well above the president in Arizona at this point. Do you think it's a safe bet for, for Trump this year?
JAMES: You know, I will say this. If we looked at polling from four years ago, you would be on the outside looking in if you had predicted Donald Trump was going to go all the way. You know, I think the voter registration here, the activists here, we're still a conservative state. Do I think that he has nothing to worry about? No. But I come from the philosophy that you always run like you're behind.
GILGER: So we had a lot of independent voters here. A lot of people who are theoretically still up for grabs in this election in which very few voters seem to be still up for grabs. Do you think the campaign is signaling something here by pulling out in this place at this time, like Arizona is generally accepted now to be a battleground state in this race. Doesn't every ad buy matter that much more?
JAMES: I would argue that your ground game is more important than your ad buy, because really you have by now narrowed down to who are the voters we need to reach. You know, we know who's going to vote for him, we know who's solidly against them. So they're really focused in on that middle group that you're talking about, the undecideds, and they are few and far between these days. So they've really, by this point in time in a campaign, they should have them identified and their real focus should be on turning those voters their way and then making sure they turn out to vote.
GILGER: OK. Final question for you, Lisa. You mentioned Sen. Martha McSally earlier. Does this or could this decision and the way that the Trump campaign plays the campaign in our state have consequences for her? Like, she's been closely aligned with the president, depending in part on his support and has a very tough race against Democrat Mark Kelly here. Does this move possibly signal sort of a waning belief in her ability to hold onto that seat, especially given recent polling?
JAMES: No, I don't think so at all. And I think the fact that the independent expenditure groups that have come in for her to the excess of $12 million in these final days sends a signal that they, she's very much in play. That they, they absolutely believe that she can win reelection.
GILGER: All right. That is Republican political consultant Lisa James joining us this morning to read some of those political tea leaves. Lisa, thank you so much for coming on.
JAMES: Thank you.