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Schumer and McCaskill

Senate Minority Leader Sen. Charles Schumer of N.Y., left, and Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., return to Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, April 26, 2017. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

WASHINGTON • In a fresh indication that Democrats are worried about African-American turnout in pivotal elections this fall, political committees aligned with Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer and former President Barack Obama are aiming digital messages to black voters in Missouri and several other states.

The Senate Majority PAC, which is run by a close Schumer ally, and Priorities USA Action, which was founded by former top Obama advisers, say they will spend “seven figures” in Missouri, Florida, Indiana, North Dakota and Arizona on messages focused on “motivating and mobilizing African-American, [Latino] and younger voters to show up at the polls this fall.”

All five states have pivotal U.S. Senate races in seven weeks. In Missouri, Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., faces a tough challenge from Republican Attorney General Josh Hawley.

Democrats behind the targeted digital messages say they are making sure that their voters, who tend to not turn out the same way they do as in presidential election, will be enthused to vote in 2018. They point to the precedent of Alabama, where Democrat Doug Jones and national Democrats focused in part on driving turnout among black voters to win a special Senate race last year.

By identifying black voters, the Schumer-Obama effort highlights a lingering theme for McCaskill: That she is having trouble energizing black voters in a way that they turned out in 2012, the last time she was on Missouri’s ballot, and the last time Obama was, too.

McCaskill herself tacitly alluded to that in a video posted last week by the conservative Washington-based D.C. Free Beacon. In it, she says her campaign is having trouble attracting volunteers for its Ferguson office. The article misquotes McCaskill and infers she is having trouble statewide with volunteers, when she was referring to Ferguson alone.

But her words are an acknowledgment that enthusiasm is lagging in a community in St. Louis County which she won by more than 2-1 over Republican Todd Akin in 2012, and that she will have to drive up huge margins in this year if she is to counter Hawley’s strength out-state.

In 2012, McCaskill piled up almost three-fourths of her landslide margin statewide over Akin in just St. Louis and St. Louis County. The city and county went 69-27 percent for McCaskill over Akin, who had been badly damaged after a comment about “legitimate rape.” The city and county, combined, were just under a quarter of the state’s vote total in 2012. McCaskill won the rest of Missouri by 7 points.

According to the Census Bureau, about two-thirds of Ferguson is black, about a fourth of St. Louis County’s residents are black, and about 46 percent of the city’s residents are African-American. As a whole, the state is about 11 percent black.

The latest Democrat digital targeting presses an advantage their party already had built in that medium.

According to the Wesleyan Media Project, Democrats had outspent Republicans in Missouri’s Senate race by more than 3-1 in advertising on Facebook and Google as of early September. But the amount spent on digital advertising in the Senate race — about $252,000 for Democrats to just under $72,000 for Republicans — was still dwarfed by the more than $3 million already spent by the two campaigns on TV advertising.

In TV advertising, McCaskill had an advantage over Hawley with $2.7 million to roughly $485,000 going into September. Both campaigns have been dwarfed by outside campaign spending by groups on the right and the left.

The Wesleyan Media Project, funded in part by the John S. Knight Foundation, follows money in politics.

The digital media focus may be happening in part because TV is saturated with ads in some markets. The Wesleyan Media Project reported last week that, compared with the last nonpresidential elections in 2014, spending for advertising by outside groups – those not directly affiliated with campaigns — nationally was up 33 percent during the two weeks following Labor Day.

That report said that $3.2 million was spent by outside groups on Missouri Senate advertising from Sept. 4-14.

Search Facebook’s archive of political advertisements(tncms-asset)e9e64fb8-bb6d-11e8-b7a0-00163ec2aa77[1](/tncms-asset)

Hawley vs. McCaskill: Coverage of the 2018 Senate race

Post-Dispatch coverage of the 2018 race for Missouri's U.S. Senate seat.

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Chuck Raasch is a reporter for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.