First-term Republican Sen. Pat Toomey faced a well-organized and meticulously planned challenge from a former Clinton White House aide who had recently served as Chief of Staff to the Democratic governor of Pennsylvania. Pennsylvania has long been a swing state and public polling suggested a potential Toomey loss.
Pennsylvania voters tend to be centrists, but they can also be hard to read. In the past two decades, the state has shifted from its tradition of a Democratic west, centered around Pittsburgh, and a Democratic East in Philadelphia, with Republican conservatives taking up the middle of the state. The state now is Democratic in Philadelphia and its suburbs, in major population centers such as Pittsburgh and Scranton, but with an increasingly conservative electorate in the west.
Challenger Katie McGinty enjoyed the blessing of the state’s Democratic leaders, public sector union chiefs and liberal activists, who combined to ensure that McGinty became the party leadership’s hand-picked nominee over Toomey’s prior opponent, former U.S. Rep. Joe Sestak. McGinty also enjoyed a close relationship with Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton.
This combination of organized support meant a heavy flow of cash into the McGinty campaign, ensuring the ability to launch attack ads against Toomey in an effort to strip away moderate voters who have long meant the balance between victory and defeat in Pennsylvania.
ENTER COLD SPARK MEDIA.
As Toomey’s media consultants, ColdSpark Media enjoyed a special position of trust and understanding. Company principal and co-founder Mark Harris served as campaign manager for Toomey’s first-term win. Along with ColdSpark staff, Mark brought a level of skill and knowledge when it comes to Pennsylvania voters and how to move numbers.
The Toomey campaign built data into everything it did from the very beginning. Late in 2014, the campaign began creating a custom database to merge all the disparate data from dozens of sources. This database became the beating heart of the campaigns messaging operation. It allowed us to target our digital advertising, direct mail, and even some of our television directly to the people most likely to change their opinion. It also allowed us to track the relative success of different advertising techniques.
We also launched a first of its kind digital content marketing campaign on Facebook to deliver millions of impressions of hundreds of pieces of content to specific groups of people. Voters concerned with animal welfare would see an article about Senator Toomey’s work with the Humane Society, while those concerned about jobs might see content on Sen. Toomey’s JOBS Act.
This innovative, numbers-driven approach, delivered a Toomey win while other statewide offices – Treasurer, Auditor General, and Attorney General – went to the Democrats. The lesson was to know the state, quantify the electorate, and stay on message.