Long before Donald Trump swatted away his Republican presidential rivals, his likely Democratic opponent and her allies began laying traps for him.
Priorities USA, the lead super PAC backing Hillary Clinton, has already reserved $91 million in television advertising that will start next month and continue through Election Day. In addition, Clinton’s campaign and Priorities USA have both debuted online videos that cast Trump in a negative light – a preview of what voters will see on TV over the next six months.
So far, Priorities USA is the only group on either side that has rolled out such an ambitious advertising plan geared toward the general election. The group’s leaders say they’re trying to avoid what they see as the core mistake made by Trump’s Republican rivals – not pushing hard enough against him until it was too late.
"There’s a reason that we have a head start," said Justin Barasky, a Priorities USA spokesman, "and it’s that we’ve taken Donald Trump seriously all along, unlike the Republicans."
The group’s ad strategy will test what has been a hallmark of Trump’s GOP primary rise: his ability to withstand – even thrive in the face of – tens of millions of dollars in attack ads.
An Associated Press review of Priorities USA’s TV buys, collected by Kantar Media’s Campaign Media Analysis Group, reveals a formidable 22-week advertising blitz through what the group considers key battleground states: Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Nevada, New Hampshire, Ohio and Virginia.
In those states, Priorities USA will start ads in major metropolitan areas, then broaden its outreach to smaller cities as the November election approaches. The group will also start ads on satellite TV in September.
According to the CMAG data, Priorities USA plans to spend about $4 million a week through most of June. The group then slows spending through July, taking off the weeks of the Republican and Democratic conventions, when widespread television coverage essentially provides free media time for the candidates.
Priorities USA returns to the airwaves in August and begins unloading $60 million in ads between September and Election Day. The week of the election, Priorities USA plans to spend about $8 million in the seven battleground states.
The heaviest concentration is in Florida, where the group has reserved $23 million in time, mostly in Orlando and in Tampa.
The group also plans to spend about $19.5 million in the traditional presidential bellwether state of Ohio. More than half is for Cleveland, Akron and Columbus.
There’s no substantive GOP counterweight to the pro-Clinton effort – partly because Trump has repeatedly trashed big donors and called the outside groups that can raise unlimited money from them "corrupt."
As the presumptive GOP nominee, Trump is now beginning his outreach to donors. But even if he fully embraces outside help, he’s far behind: One super PAC backing him, Great America, was almost $700,000 in debt at the end of March.
Another group that was a major player in the 2012 race, American Crossroads, is still "evaluating what our specific role will be," said spokesman Ian Prior.
Television ads are only one part of Priorities USA’s strategy. It is putting at least $35 million into online advertising between June and Election Day, Barasky said. Those ads will largely aim to drive up turnout among core Democratic groups: African-Americans, Hispanics, women and younger voters, Barasky said.
Trump is already getting a taste of what some these ads will say.
On Thursday, Priorities USA overlaid audio of Trump talking about "unifying" the Republican Party with images of violence that has erupted inside and outside of his massive rallies. "I think we’re going to win in November," Trump says at the end. "NOPE," reads text on the screen. "Vote for Hillary Clinton."
That follows an online video the Clinton campaign put out Wednesday that features clips of prominent Republicans, including his former rivals, bashing Trump in every possible way.
"He needs therapy," says former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush at the end of the spot.
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