WASHINGTON — Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell Saturday will launch an innovative geotargeted campaign ad based around the Kentucky Derby, part of the Kentucky Republican's aggressive re-election campaign.
According to a campaign source, the technology, which is similar to event-specific advertising campaigns used by companies during this year' Super Bowl, will target "mobile devices of people within a 5 mile radius of Churchill Downs. The ads will appear in apps and mobile versions of websites that would be commonly used at the event."
Aides said the ad is designed to be a simple expression of McConnell's pride in his home state. "Mitch loves Kentucky and always celebrates the Derby. He hopes to remind everyone why this weekend is so special and share his pride with the many visitors from across the country and around the world," McConnell campaign manager Jesse Benton said.
Indeed, the idea of branding McConnell directly to Kentucky has long been a hallmark of his political career, a fact that the schools, buildings and roads around the state named after him bare testament to.
And for a politician who's spent decades in Washington, maintaining a high profile link to your home state can be critical. Former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, former Sen. Richard Lugar and scores of other skilled politicians have been pushed out of office thanks to charges of becoming "inside the beltway."
The advertising strategy is a relatively inexpensive way of reaching tens of thousands of potential voters — according to the campaign, the final price tag on the ad is expected to be "in the low five figures" and could reach hundreds of thousands of people.
Clicking on the ads will take users to a new video, "A Kentucky Story." The slick, 90-second never mentions McConnell, the 2014 race or anything to do with politics. Rather, it features images of Kentucky like rolling countryside and coalminers and Derby specific footage of horses, jockeys and the iconic Churchhill Downs.
"When winter gives way to spring, and late afternoons begin to brighten for the promise warm summer nights. My old Kentucky home becomes everyone's home on the first Saturday in May," McConnell says as video of the race and track play.
"And for the first Saturday in May, we're glad everyone can join us. Enjoy the Kentucky Derby," McConnell concludes at the end of the ad.
The ad and the geotargeting strategy was developed by GOP ad man Vincent Harris, who worked on the Perry and Gingrich campaigns, and the video was produced by Lucas Baiano. Harris also works for Sen. Ted Cruz, and is widely credited with helping make the freshman lawmaker a darling of the conservative social media set during the 2012 election cycle. "Vincent played a big role in that," a McConnell campaign source said.
Harris isn't the first conservative operative that McConnell has poached: Benton ran Sen. Rand Paul's Senate campaign. Bringing conservatives into the fold is a key part of McConnell's strategy to reduce the risk of a legitimate primary challenge from the right, something the consummate DC dealmaker is keen to avoid.
With more than $8.5 million on hand, McConnell has plenty of money to burn on setting himself up early in the cycle. "We are running the most innovative Senate campaign in history and you can expect much more to come in the months ahead," Benton said.
John Stanton is a national reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in New Orleans. In 2014, Stanton was a recipient of the National Press Foundation’s 2014 Dirksen Award for distinguished reporting of Congress.
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