Democrats began the search last summer, fanning out through the northern swing states of Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania to find the nurses, electricians, farmers and floor installers who could best testify to the danger of Donald Trump returning to power.
The previously unreported project by the outside group American Bridge 21st Century developed 732 leads, conducted 472 interviews and then filmed about 50 voters who will anchor a $140 million ad campaign starting this spring, aimed at reminding women and working-class voters why they voted against Trump in 2020, according to the group’s leaders.
“The hardest part about using the most powerful messengers in politics, which are real people from these communities, is finding them,” said Bradley Beychok, co-founder of American Bridge.
The planned ad campaign will expand upon a smaller effort American Bridge launched in 2020 to turn working-class voters in the same states against Trump. This time, with the tacit support of the White House and President Biden’s team, the focus will narrow somewhat to working-class female voters in those states, with the possibility of expanding into North Carolina later, Beychok said.
The ads will focus Trump’s role in curtailing abortion access, his role in the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol, Republican plans for entitlement reform and Biden’s plans for the economy. Early spots include testimonials from a female union electrician in Wisconsin and a Pennsylvania woman who talks emotionally about what it meant to hang her U.S. flag outside her home on the day after the Jan. 6 attack.
“Our goal is to be the best in class at finding real people to say why they want to elect Joe Biden and why they want to prevent Trump from winning another term,” Beychok said. “The secret sauce is abortion and freedom plus democracy has been greater than all the Republican lunacy we have seen.”
American Bridge will coordinate its efforts with Future Forward USA Action, another super PAC blessed by Biden aides that plans to be the main pro-Biden advertising vehicle over the coming year. Future Forward has already spent $19.8 million on ads, according to the tracking firm AdImpact, in an effort to magnify the impact of about $29 million in ads that Biden and the Democratic National Committee have placed since the start of his campaign.
American Bridge, a group founded in 2010 as an offshoot of the watchdog effort Media Matters for America, has grown from its roots as an opposition research operation aimed at serving the entire Democratic universe. The group spent $48 million on tracked ads in the northern three presidential swing states during the 2020 cycle, mostly using testimonials from working-class voters, according to AdImpact. American Bridge officials said the total cost of that program was $65 million.
White House senior adviser Anita Dunn, acting in her personal capacity, attended a fundraising retreat for American Bridge after the 2022 midterms in a show of support for the group’s efforts.
“American Bridge was a great strategic partner in 2020, and I’m glad they are on board again in 2024,” said Dunn, who worked as a senior adviser to the Biden-Harris campaign in 2020.
The group learned during the 2020 effort that more time was needed to find the voters used in those ads, prompting the early start of the expanded effort this year.
With two staffers in each of the states, American Bridge started in the summer, searching social media and reaching out to partner organizations in local communities to find people who might have stories to tell about how Biden’s policies had helped them or how Trump’s actions had hurt them, said a person familiar with the operation, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly.
American Bridge’s total budget is expected to reach $200 million this election cycle, according to people familiar with the plans. It includes a targeted research effort aimed at potential third-party challengers to Biden, like attorney Robert F. Kennedy Jr., academic Cornel West, Green Party contender Jill Stein and a candidate potentially backed by No Labels. All are in the process of seeking ballot access so they can mount a viable electoral college challenge to the Republican and Democratic nominees.
But the bulk of the effort will be spent on Great Lake states that Democrats have come to call their northern blue wall. Barring a change in political dynamics, Democrats believe they can secure an electoral college victory against Trump by winning those states, even if they lose the other swing states of Nevada, Arizona, Georgia and North Carolina.
“We’re leaving no stone unturned and making sure that voters — especially women voters — in these key states know just how much is at stake in November,” American Bridge co-chair Cecile Richards in a statement.