Teams of Rivals: Four Digital Predictions for the 2016 Senate Race

Just a few months after a historical and highly competitive Louisiana governor race, we are shifting now to a crowded roster of candidates vying to fill the soon-vacant Senate seat of Republican David Vitter.

Several Republicans have already declared, and several Democrats are soon to follow suit. Party candidates will operate like a very tentative team of rivals; individually, each candidate wants to win, but none will want to damage the others so badly that their respective party loses power (see Gumbo PAC's potent Stain).

Advertising venues are quiet thus far, but we should start feeling the trickle before the deluge soon enough. Here are my predictions for the shape and role of digital advertising in Louisiana this spring, summer, and fall:

  1. Presidential themes - Along with a senator, we elect a new president this year, and voters seem to believe the stakes are high. Expect themes, political ideas, and even specific phrases in most Senate ads to be a memetic repetition of what presidential nominees' campaigns play nationally, with a custom-tailored nod to Louisiana people and places to keep it credible. And, of course, rhetoric and rancor will rise to a boiling point as they do every four years.
  2. National security focus - With the perception of elevated terrorism threats worldwide, Senate candidates will be sure to burnish their national security chops. Republicans will lean more toward border security and immigration constraints, while Democrats will push public safety credentials and law enforcement support. With the right targeting, either approach can be very effective.
  3. Expect a standout - Intra-party oriented advertising denigrating one candidate to benefit another will probably be tamer in this race than it was among Republicans before last year's gubernatorial primary, although things are sure to ramp up if and when the field narrows. Campaign teams will be looking for an opportunity to craft and release an election-defining, media-transfixing ad like The Choice, although the conditions required for a coup like that mean it will probably happen only once, even in this broad field.
  4. Most of it will fizzle - Speaking specifically now to digital, I'm sad to predict it's mostly going to be boring and ineffective. As with most political innovations, Louisiana is slow to recognize the power of a competent digital platform; candidates are just now grasping the necessity of a well-executed website. Every campaign will run social media accounts because it's easy and accessible. But the campaign that understands complicated or unorthodox platforms and embraces digital targeting, GOTV, and cyclical list building will have a great advantage.