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Pro-Trump super PAC America First Action kicks off $22 million ad blitz in swing states

U.S. President Donald Trump talks to reporters prior to boarding Air Force One as he departs Washington for campaign travel to Florida and North Carolina at Joint Base Andrews, Maryland, September 8, 2020.

Jonathan Ernst | Reuters

A super PAC backing President Donald Trump is unleashing a wave of new ads against Democratic nominee Joe Biden as the commander in chief struggles in nationwide polls and the campaign appears to be in need of air cover. 

The PAC, America First Action, is announcing a $22 million spending spree on digital and TV ads that will target the key battleground states of Florida, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Ohio. These ads will air from now until Election Day in November. It’s in addition to the PAC’s recent decision to spend over $18 million on ads in those four states.  

The spots focus, in part, on the ongoing protests in states such as Wisconsin. One of the PAC’s messages is that under a Biden administration, small business owners won’t be as protected from potential rioters as they are under Trump. The ads argue that Biden doesn’t have the mental stamina to be president. Another ad looks to paint Biden as a president who will defund the police. 

The nation has been experiencing widespread protests often in reaction to the killing of Black men and women by police. Biden, who is not in favor of defunding the police, has said that looters and rioters should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. A health assessment of Biden showed that he is a “healthy, vigorous, 77-year-old male, who is fit to successfully execute the duties of the Presidency.” 

Brian O. Walsh, the president of America First Action, told CNBC late Tuesday that the additional $22 million is just the beginning of their spending spree for the final months of the election. 

“To be frank, we look at these battleground states, and we are feeling optimistic and aggressive, and we have to put the pedal to the metal all the way until the end,” Walsh explained. 

The group is committed to spending over $200 million in the 2020 election cycle to assist Trump’s bid for reelection, the PAC’s spokeswoman said. So far it has invested at least $36 million, according to the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics. 

The tactics by America First Action mirror a message Trump himself has been blasting out on Twitter and through his campaign. 

On Tuesday, Trump called the protesters “thugs” and blamed the unrest on “Democrat run cities.”

A Real Clear Politics polling average shows Biden ahead of Trump by seven points nationally. A recent CNBC/ Change Research poll shows Biden ahead of Trump in Florida, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. 

With Trump trailing in several polls, the campaign has been lacking in air time in some of the states America First Action is looking to make an impact. 

Data from Advertising Analytics shows that the Trump campaign has pushed some of his fall ad buys in Pennsylvania and Ohio, which were supposed to air this week, until next week.

The PAC is spending $6.5 million combined in Ohio and Pennsylvania as part of this ad buy alone. 

Last week, the Trump campaign did not spend on ads targeting voters in those two states, while Biden’s team made investments over that same time period. 

Meanwhile, America First Action has been under scrutiny by Republican donors for not doing enough while Trump lags, including in the wake of Biden’s announcement that he and the Democratic National Committee raised a record shattering $364 million in August.

“Biden’s mushrooming war chest puts more pressure on America First Action to step up to the plate and pick up the slack,” Dan Eberhart, a longtime longtime Republican Trump donor, told CNBC on Tuesday. “America First Action is running out of time. They need to provide air support for Trump and they need to do it sooner rather than later.”  Eberhart gave $100,000 to the Trump Victory committee in June. 

Records provided to CNBC by the PAC show that they are on track to have their best quarter of 2020. They raised over $21 million in August and a notch above $8 million so far in September. 

Still, the criticism against America First has led to the creation of a new pro-Trump super PAC, Preserve America. It’s being led by Chris LaCivita, a GOP strategist who who put together the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth effort against John Kerry’s 2004 presidential race.

Preserve America moved ahead with a $30 million ad blitz just after its recent launch. 

America First’s Walsh shrugged off the critics and cheered on the creation of the new super PAC, telling CNBC: “We welcome allies.” 

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