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Biden is using his cash advantage to address vulnerabilities against Trump

President Biden speaks to local supporters and volunteers at the office opening of the Wisconsin coordinated campaign headquarters in Milwaukee on March 13.
Brendan Smialowski
AFP via Getty Images
President Biden speaks to local supporters and volunteers at the office opening of the Wisconsin coordinated campaign headquarters in Milwaukee on March 13.

Donald Trump has had the edge in the 2024 election, leading, until recently, in most swing-state polls.

President Biden's approval rating is low, he's struggling with Black, Latino and young voters — and third-party groups threaten to siphon votes from him.

But there's one area where Biden is surging and Trump is lagging: money. Biden and the Democratic Party have an almost $100 million cash-on-hand advantage — and they are trying to use that edge to address Biden's vulnerabilities.

The Biden campaign is running ads in states that are expected to be competitive, targeting Black and Latino voters in particular. Democrats are spending more than four times what Republicans are spending in their effort to support Trump on the airwaves right now.

Early advertising can make a difference in an election. The ads cost less, and campaigns can define themselves and their opponents, especially if those ads are left unanswered.

With voters' views of the candidates as locked in as they are this year, there's a strong argument to be made that not much will change people's minds.

But here's why the early ads are important:

1. Trump's comments have not dominated everyday life in the same way they did when he was president.

Democratic Pennsylvania Gov. Josh Shapiro has said Americans have a degree of "brain fog" when it comes to Trump because they haven't had to pay attention as closely with him out of office.

The Biden campaign knows that many of the people who voted for him in 2020 did so because they wanted Trump out of office. They wanted something of an antidote to Trump's chaos, daily invectives and his handling of COVID.

Democratic strategists note that it is past time for the Biden campaign to urgently elevate the threat Trump presents to those same voters and remind them about what they didn't like about him in the first place, especially as his rhetoric has become even more graphic and violent.

The campaign and Biden's allies have begun to do that, outspending the groups supporting Trump $10.7 million to $2.6 million since Super Tuesday on March 6, according to NPR/AdImpact.

None of the money on the right in this stretch is coming from the Trump campaign itself. That can put a candidate at a disadvantage. Not only do the ads cost more for an outside group than a campaign, but a candidate is not wholly in charge of the message.

Plus, with Trump struggling to ramp up with small-dollar donors and his legal bills piling up, now is a good time to make up lost ground.

2. Much of that lost ground is with Biden's base.

With the threat of third parties potentially siphoning votes, there's a need for the Biden campaign to spend big to try to bring all of his 2020 voters back into the fold.

The campaign has now opened lots of field offices and hiring staff, while Trump's ground game is lagging in key states, like Arizona. Of course, the same was true in 2016, and Trump was still able to turn out enough voters to win.

But, remember, a campaign that already won — against the same opponent no less– has a strategic advantage. It needs to get the same voters who voted for its candidate once to do it again.

Several polls have shown Trump eating into Biden's margins with Black voters, but there is a healthy degree of skepticism that the polls, which traditionally have relatively small samples of nonwhite voters, are correct and that those numbers will hold on Election Day.

Nonetheless, surveys have also consistently found Biden's approval ratings are down with Black and Latino voters, and he needs to get them fully back on board. One way to do that is to remind them of what they didn't like about Trump, but since Biden has been president for three years, he also has to convince them that he's made their lives better and that he's fighting for them.

The campaign is arguing in ads that Biden is "putting in the work for Black America" and pivots from Trump this way: "As bad as Trump was, his economy was worse and Black America felt it the most."

Polls have shown that many people remember Trump's economy fondly, but Biden is taking a page from Trump's playbook to counter that — he's taking a vulnerability that people attribute to him and trying to make it stick to his opponent instead.

In the ad — which is running in key markets in Georgia, Michigan, Pennsylvania, North Carolina and Wisconsin — Biden argues that Trump favored the wealthy, but says he is operating differently. "As president," Biden says, "I put money in pockets and capped the cost of insulin at $35 a month. There's a lot more to do, but we can do it together."

In ads targeting younger Latinos – in both English and Spanish — Biden's team is focusing on insulin costs ("for our abuelos") and abortion access as a key difference between him and Trump.

"Only one choice is right," narrators say, "and the difference between them is your vote."

3. This is the first presidential election since Dobbs.

Abortion is likely going to be a huge factor in this election.

Democrats have won special election after special election when reproductive rights were the focus. That makes Republicans, including Trump, nervous.

So far, there has been $4.7 million in TV and digital ads run in the presidential race mentioning abortion. Almost all of that is coming from Democrats (about $4.5 million).

The message? "Which America do you wanna live in?" a narrator asks in one ad. "In Trump's America, abortion would be banned. Women could be punished for getting reproductive care. In Biden's America, women are allowed to make their own health care decisions. Biden, the America we want."

That message and the spending on it is sure to ramp up in the coming months.

Modern Democratic presidential candidates have had the challenge, in a diversifying party, of needing to tailor different messages for lots of different groups.

A perhaps more intractable group for Biden this time around might be younger voters, especially younger voters of color, who have soured on Biden because of his handling of Israel in its war in Gaza.

Facing protests in New York at a Democratic fundraiser that raked in $26 million for Biden's reelection efforts, former President Barack Obama told them: "You can't just talk and not listen."

Part of what Obama, Biden and other pro-Biden Democrats would want to try to get across is that Biden is listening and that Trump would have far greater consequences for their cause.

Meanwhile Trump is trying to present himself as having "unyielding strength" on the world stage.

"When I'm back in the White House," Trump says in one of his ads, "our enemies will know if you spill a drop of American blood, we will spill a gallon of yours."

Biden has seven-plus months to convince those key voters that he has a better approach to the war. His success with that could determine whether he wins this fall in key states like Michigan.

Copyright 2024 NPR

Domenico Montanaro is NPR's senior political editor/correspondent. Based in Washington, D.C., his work appears on air and online delivering analysis of the political climate in Washington and campaigns. He also helps edit political coverage.