Liberal super PAC Priorities USA announces $100 million plan for 2020 presidential election

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Priorities USA, an influential Democratic super PAC, announced on Thursday it has begun a $100 million early engagement program hitting up to two-and-a-half million voters in four crucial states in the run-up to the 2020 presidential election.

In a press briefing, Guy Cecil, chairman of the super PAC, said phase one of the program will target voters in Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Florida through the end of the first quarter of 2020. A monetary amount for phase two has not been decided on yet. The Senate program is also separate from this presidential effort.

“Our activities start now,” he said.

These are four of the six states, which include New Hampshire and Nevada, deemed as “core” by the organization. Cecil also listed Arizona, North Carolina and Georgia as expansion states that Priorities USA will spend in as part of phase two.

Cecil said that the super PAC will be “studiously neutral” in the Democratic primary and will support whoever the nominee is.

With many of the Democratic nominees, like Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Cory Booker, saying they don’t want super PACs spending on their behalf, Cecil said that a Democratic nominee who disapproves of super PACs won’t impact Priorities USA’s spending plans. He explained that the super PAC has three priorities — defeat Donald Trump, elect a Democratic Senate and increase voter turnout —  that it will pursue regardless of the Democratic nominee.

During the 2016 presidential election cycle, Priorities USA spent more than $190 million.   

Cecil said that Priorities USA operates similarly to groups like Planned Parenthood and EMILY’s List. It includes a nonpartisan foundation which focuses on voting rights and voter registration and wants to be “building a permanent digital infrastructure for the left.”

“We’re not solely a super PAC. That ended the day after the election in 2016,” Cecil said. “Our intention is to be in the [2020] election.”

Over the past two years, Cecil explained that Priorities USA had collected nearly 2 million survey responses which have allowed them to create different voter models. The early engagement program will include placing press and digital teams in the core states to get an on-the-ground perspective of the issues motivating voters there. A large focus of the effort will be tailoring digital ads to those voters. Cecil said the group created a “dashboard” that will oversee and coordinate independent expenditure spending, along with a program to monitor online spending and messaging.

Based off of polling of registered voters the group did, Cecil said the anti-Trump issues that resonate the most are concerns over health care and a desire for economic policies that help average Americans and not elites. Priorities USA’s effort will be a “drumbeat on the core issues” of health care and wages and not Mueller or presidential tweets, Cecil said, along with voter registration and re-registration.

A mistake of the 2016 campaign was Democratic messaging focused on Trump’s temperament and not on the issues.

“I don’t think we need to bring more attention to tweets,” Cecil said. What Democrats need to do is “explain [Trump’s temperament] in the context of why it’s hurting real people.”

Within the four states targeted in phase one, Cecil said Priorities USA wants to hold the around four percent of the electorate commonly referred to as “Romney/Clinton voters,” who voted Republican in 2012 but switched to Democratic in 2016. Also within those states is the nine percent of the electorate dubbed “Obama/Trump voters,” that the super PAC is planning to gain through targeting them on the previously-stated core issues.

Several of the specific areas within the four initial states include targeting 80,969 voters in Milwaukee County in Wisconsin, 61,075 voters in Washtenaw County, Michigan, 50,239 voters in Duval County, Florida and 16,800 voters in Cambria County, Pennsylvania with localized messaging. Cecil said on-the-ground staff from the super PAC will be able to learn “the actual lived experience of the people there.”  

Cecil stressed that Priorities USA will place a high value on digital spending, an arena that the Trump campaign dominated in the 2016 election and since. He noted that it is “highly unlikely” the group will run television ads in 2019.   

“We will have a better [digital] program than the Trump campaign,” Cecil promised.

He also said that barring an unexpected change, the group is working as if Trump will be the Republican nominee.

“I don’t think we will be starting a Bill Weld book,” he said, referencing the former governor of Massachusetts who is mulling a primary challenge to Trump.

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