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G.O.P. Senators Have a Lot to Say in Ads, but Not Much About Trump

Hi. Welcome to On Politics, your guide to the day in national politics. I’m Nick Corasaniti, your host on Tuesdays for our coverage of all things media and messaging.

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Over the past week, incumbent Republican senators facing tough re-election fights in Arizona, Colorado, Iowa, Maine, Montana, North Carolina and South Carolina have run a combined total of 48 television ads, according to Advertising Analytics, an ad tracking firm.

None of them mention President Trump.

It could be because of the president’s yawning deficit in the national polls, or because they’re focusing on other issues that are polling better locally. But none of the Republican incumbents in these seven states have directly tied themselves to the president as they have in the past.

So, what are they pitching to voters? We’re glad you asked. It’s very different from state to state, though there is a lot of talk about pre-existing conditions.

Here’s a breakdown.

Senator Martha McSally of Arizona has put seven ads on the air over the past week, but by far her most-aired ad is one in which she says she has “always supported protecting anyone with a pre-existing condition, and I always will.” She has spent more than $1.1 million on the ad over the past week. It’s an attempt to rebut attacks from her Democratic opponent, Mark Kelly, that the effort to repeal the Affordable Care Act would lead to the loss of health insurance coverage for millions of people with pre-existing medical conditions. But the only national law that protects people with pre-existing conditions is the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, and Ms. McSally voted to repeal it. (The Cook Political Report rates this race as “Lean Democrat.”)

Senator Steve Daines of Montana is running an ad that is very similar to Ms. McSally’s. In the same direct-to-camera style, he claims that his opponent, Gov. Steve Bullock, is falsely characterizing his vote to repeal the A.C.A. as an attack on pre-existing conditions. Mr. Daines, whose campaign has spent $307,000 on the ad over the past week, says he has “always fought to protect Montanans with pre-existing conditions, and I always will.” But like Ms. McSally, he offers no explanation of how or where that support has come from, and instead offers a broad-brush attack on the A.C.A. (Cook rating: Tossup.)

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Senator Thom Tillis of North Carolina is seizing on a scandal that has enveloped his Democratic opponent, Cal Cunningham. In his most-aired ad of the past week, Mr. Tillis’s campaign simply edits together damning news reports detailing a reported affair involving Mr. Cunningham, who has admitted to exchanging flirtatious texts with a woman who is not his wife. The Tillis campaign has spent more than $500,000 on the ad over the past five days. (Cook rating: Tossup.)

Senator Cory Gardner of Colorado is also capitalizing on stumbles by his Democratic challenger, former Gov. John Hickenlooper. An independent ethics panel in Colorado found that Mr. Hickenlooper took a trip on a private jet and accepted other perks that were impermissible under state ethics laws. In the ad, Mr. Gardner pulls up to a private jet hangar in a red S.U.V. and recites the claims against Mr. Hickenlooper. He closes the ad, which his campaign has spent $295,000 on over the past week, by saying, “You and I may not always agree, but you know I honestly work hard for Colorado.” (Cook rating: Lean Democrat.)

Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina is up against an opponent, Jaime Harrison, who just smashed a record for fund-raising in a Senate race. So Mr. Graham’s campaign has been repurposing old videos of Mr. Harrison appearing with Democratic luminaries in an attempt to paint him as “too liberal” for South Carolina. Mr. Graham’s most-aired ad, backed by $987,000 over the past week, features Mr. Harrison with Speaker Nancy Pelosi, as Mr. Harrison calls Ms. Pelosi his “mentor.” The video is from a panel Mr. Harrison moderated while he was chairman of the South Carolina Democratic Party, well before he announced his candidacy. (Cook rating: Tossup.)

Senator Joni Ernst of Iowa is following a line of attack similar to Mr. Graham’s. Her most-aired ad features a man in a diner, claiming to be a former Democrat, who says he wants “nothing to do with them anymore” because of “the radical left” and adds that Theresa Greenfield, Ms. Ernst’s Democratic opponent, is beholden to the party’s liberal wing. The Ernst campaign has spent $345,000 on that ad over the past week. Her campaign is also airing an ad featuring Ms. Ernst’s sister, who has diabetes. Her sister recounts being bullied about her disease, and how Ms. Ernst always stood up for her, attempting to tie that to protecting pre-existing conditions. (Cook rating: Tossup.)

Senator Susan Collins of Maine relies on a familiar home-state personality — Bill Green, a retired local television anchor — to deliver a defense of her record. Mr. Green sarcastically asks, “Did you know Susan Collins hates dogs?” before criticizing a “ridiculous smear campaign” funded by out-of-state donors backing Sara Gideon, Ms. Collins’s Democratic challenger. Mr. Green, who retired last year after spending 47 years on Maine news broadcasts, indirectly references Mr. Trump’s sliding poll numbers in Maine, telling viewers, “No matter who you are voting for for president, Susan Collins has never been more important to Maine.” The ad, which the Collins campaign spent $208,000 on, ends with Ms. Collins sitting on the couch with her dog, Pepper. (Cook rating: Tossup.)

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In the toughest re-election battle of his career, Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina is airing another ad tying Jaime Harrison to a national Democrat — and he has gone back to the 2016 well for this one, resurfacing praise Mr. Harrison once offered to Hillary Clinton.

The message: Even since she lost the 2016 presidential election, Mrs. Clinton has been a galvanizing force for the Republican base. The ad from the Graham campaign attempts to tap into that vein by simply showing a scene of Mr. Harrison and Mrs. Clinton from 2015. Mr. Harrison greets the former secretary of state by saying, “We’re so excited to have you here.”

The ad quickly goes split screen, depicting the “Clinton-Harrison” agenda as one that would include “liberal activist judges,” “late-term abortion” and “free health care for illegals.” Then it cuts back to another old clip of Mr. Harrison saying, “I’m so proud to be with her.”

The takeaway: The event featuring Mrs. Clinton took place in 2015, years before Mr. Harrison announced his candidacy for the Senate. Mr. Graham himself once penned a tribute to Mrs. Clinton for Time magazine, writing in 2006 that the two had found “common ground.”

In an election season defined by so many crises, it’s somewhat surprising to see the Graham campaign reach back to the 2016 election and attempt to tie Mr. Harrison to Mrs. Clinton. Yet it could be a clear sign that Mr. Graham is growing concerned about simply shoring up his base and sees Mrs. Clinton as one of the best foils to help him do so.


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