Sen. Pat Toomey

in Pennsylvania (2016)

The Challenge

We’ve never been one to shy away from a good challenge. We knew winning a U.S. Senate race in Pennsylvania in a presidential year would be tough. 2010 was a Republican year, and yet, Sen. Toomey won by only two points. There were several challenges to tackle:

  • Pennsylvania Democrats have a one-million-voter advantage, and higher turnout in a presidential year would benefit the Democrats
  • Toomey had to outperform 2010 numbers in the Philadelphia suburbs without losing conservative and working-class Democrats in the rest of the state
  • It was not clear who our Democratic opponent would be
  • No one expected Donald Trump to be the Republican nominee

The Solution

Our solution was holistic and outcome-focused. We leveraged a multi-faceted approach backed by our team’s unique expertise to develop relevant messaging and reach voters where they were — targeting platforms ranging from social media to TV. Our solution was broken down into five key parts, highlighted below.

1. Don’t be Stupid, Plan Ahead

Too many politicians are caught by surprise. We knew we didn’t have that luxury. That’s why we had our first campaign team meeting back in January of 2011. We set an aggressive fundraising goal of $30 million over six years. This meant we needed to get started A.S.A.P. We also drafted a four-year messaging plan that focused on accomplishing results for Pennsylvania and finding bipartisan solutions to real problems.

2. Messaging: Threading the Needle

Fine-tune the message: As we entered the election year cycle in 2015, we drafted a nuanced message that focused on issues with broad appeal. We knew our eventual opponent would try to paint Sen. Toomey as an arch-conservative and financial baron. We countered this strategy by focusing on national security, local safety issues, Pennsylvania-focused results, constituent service and Sen. Toomey’s record of bipartisanship.

We also had to define the enemy. As Democrats Katie McGinty and Joe Sestak jumped into the Democratic primary, we didn’t wait until the general election to start defining our opponents. We did our opposition research early and focused on defining both potential opponents as elitist, out-of-touch, corrupt and liberal. We used surrogates to add credibility to our attacks.

3. Digital Innovation: Winning on the Margins

We launched an innovative digital campaign that relied on hard data, scientific measurements and targeted advertising. Using a built-from-scratch database, we modeled eight groups of voters based on specific issues, like Iran, veterans and police. Instead of running traditional TV ads to these voters, we created a year-long plan that sent pieces of organic content to specific groups of voters over time.

Our digital plan delivered 3 million impressions and resulted in 1 million social engagements. Our polling demonstrated that our made-for-digital content produced much higher engagement rates.

35% Higher

engagement rate
for made-for-digital video

327% Higher

engagement rate for
made-for-digital content

36% Higher

video view rate compared
to repurposed TV ads

The average movement for the eight targeted groups in favor of Pat Toomey was 12% compared to 3% for the electorate as a whole.


Change in
the Ballot

across 8 voter segments


Change in
the Ballot

1.2 Million

New Voters




that won the election


New Voters

in favor of the candidate

4. TV Time

Pennsylvania has six main broadcast markets. This makes TV expensive, but it also allows for targeting across very different parts of the state. We understood the importance of making TV time count.

  • We highlighted Sen. Toomey’s work on background checks and bipartisanship in the Philadelphia media market
  • We highlighted Katie McGinty’s weakness on Iran, sanctuary cities and other security issues in the western media markets
  • We used hyper-targeting to run an ad featuring President Obama praising Sen. Toomey, only in cable zones with Obama’s highest 2016 performance scores

5. Donald Trump

Trump’s candidacy and nomination consumed all the oxygen on the campaign trail. It was the only thing reporters wanted to talk about. At the same time, Katie McGinty and the national Democrats desperately tried to link Sen. Toomey to Trump in the more liberal parts of the state.

Dealing with the media onslaught required extreme discipline. We didn’t let the media dictate the conversation and stuck to the story that we wanted to tell. Most importantly, Sen. Toomey didn’t slip up. He didn’t give the Democrats an opening.

The Result

Another Win

Source: FivethirtyEight

Sen. Toomey’s path to victory in Pennsylvania was very different from Donald Trump’s. Trump ran up the score with working-class voters, while he lost badly with suburban voters and college graduates.

Sen. Toomey vastly outperformed Trump in those crucial suburban areas, a pivotal part of our strategy considering the more moderate Philadelphia media market contains 45% of the electorate.



“The political pundits didn’t think we could win in 2016, and they would have been right without ColdSpark on my team.”

Sen. Pat Toomey (R-PA)

“The political pundits didn’t think we could win in 2016, and they would have been right without ColdSpark on my team.”

Sen. Pat Toomey (R-PA)

Campaign Recognition


  • 2017 Reed Award: Best Digital Advertising Campaign
  • 2017 Pollie Award: Best Social Media in a Statewide Campaign
  • 2017 Reed Award: Best Use of Online Targeting in a Statewide Campaign
  • 2017 Reed Award: Best Use of Social Media in a Statewide Campaign

Recognized by Facebook for Cutting-Edge Social Media Targeting

With our innovative and hands-on approach, we were able to defy the odds and help Sen. Toomey win a tough race.