GRAND JUNCTION, Colorado — Michelle Obama is starring in a new campaign ad hitting the airwaves in Florida this week in a small buy aimed at convincing undecided voters along the critical I-4 corridor to go out and vote — for Donald Trump.
In recent weeks the first lady has emerged as one of Hillary Clinton’s most effective surrogates, and is extremely popular with much of the population. But the pro-Trump super PAC has isolated a clip they see as a critique of the Clintons during the nasty 2008 primary fight between the two.
The $400,000 ad campaign by the Make America Number 1 Super PAC, titled “Can't Run Her House,” is designed to not-so-subtly hit Clinton both for her husband’s extramarital affairs and how Clinton herself handled them.
The ad starts with black-and-white footage of Clinton, with the words, “If you really want to know who Hillary Clinton is, let’s hear from those who know her best.” It then cuts to grainy footage of Michelle Obama speaking to a crowd during the 2008 campaign. “One of the important aspects of this race is role-modeling what good families should look like. And my view is, if you can't run your own house, you certainly can’t run the White House. You can’t do it,” Obama says to applause. (Obama did not explicitly reference the Clintons in the remark and at the time, Barack Obama said it was not meant as a reference to the Clintons, though some interpreted the remark that way.)
Although the Trump campaign has periodically sought to highlight the often personal fight between the Obamas and Clinton, those efforts have focused on their claims that Clinton’s campaign started the birther movement, rather than the other way around.
Republicans hope that using the popular first lady against Clinton will do what Trump and his campaign have been unable to do so far: either cut into Clinton’s lead with women voters, or at the least depress turnout, especially among young and minority women.
The ad comes as Trump is struggling to put behind him accusations that he has sexually assaulted nearly a dozen women over the years. Trump's wife, Melania, conducted interviews with CNN and Fox News this week, and Republicans have urged sought to equate the scandal with those that dogged former President Bill Clinton throughout his time in the White House.
According to a source with the super PAC, the group is targeting central Florida markets including Tampa Bay, Orlando, and Daytona because they are “major persuadables right now” in the state. Depending on how successful the ad is, the group could expand it across Florida and into other swing states, the source said.
The ad was developed by Cambridge Analytica, one of the firms behind the successful Brexit campaign in the United Kingdom earlier this year, and Ted Cruz's campaign earlier this year. The firm is also connected to the Mercer family, conservative mega-donors that have backed Trump this year and were instrumental in putting Kellyanne Conway and Steve Bannon in senior roles on Trump's campaign.
Online testing of the ad by Cambridge Analytica increased the “very unfavorable” opinion of Clinton by 10.24 points in women 65 years old and older, and by 8.1 points amongst moderate women. Additionally, the group saw a 15.91-point increase in “very unfavorable” opinion amongst Hispanic women, along with a 7.02 decrease in neutral opinion of the Democratic nominee.
The ad is part of the increasingly targeted online and television messaging efforts by campaigns that are designed to appeal to specific demographics. “We can target specific voters, with specific messages, and measure whether or not that message is resonating,” said Emily Cornell, senior vice president for political affairs at Cambridge Analytica. "In an instance like 'Can’t Run Her House,' the target audience — persuadable women — was moved, in some measures, by high double digit. Putting more money behind this buy, and others like it, gives our clients an edge in reaching their goals."
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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