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Biden emerges as top GOP 'boogeyman' in 2022 campaign ads so far

First Read is your briefing from "Meet the Press" and the NBC Political Unit on the day's most important political stories and why they matter.
Conference Of Mayors Held In Washington, DC
President Biden speaks during the 90th Winter Meeting of USCM on Jan. 21, 2022 in Washington.Alex Wong / Getty Images

WASHINGTON — If it’s Tuesday ... The U.S. Supreme Court allows Alabama to use its controversial redistricting map for 2022 elections. ... President Biden talks manufacturing and union jobs. ... Biden also vows to end Nord Stream 2 pipeline if Russia invades Ukraine. ... Jessica Cisneros unloads on Rep. Henry Cuellar in new Texas-28 ad. ... Sen. Raphael Warnock is up with a 60-second ad speaking to camera in Georgia Senate. ... And American ice skater Nathan Chen scores big.

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But first: Donald Trump isn’t the top “boogeyman” appearing in midterm ads so far in 2020. Neither is House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Nor is Dr. Anthony Fauci.

That distinction goes to President Biden, according to an NBC News review of 129 advertisements for House, Senate and gubernatorial contests that aired in the month of January.

In total, NBC News identified 25 distinct ads last month — all coming from Republicans — that name-checked the president in a negative manner, either to establish a candidate’s credentials with primary voters or to paint their opponents in an unfavorable light.

One example from Alabama GOP Senate candidate Mike Durant: “Career politicians in Washington astound me with their stupidity. And Biden's vaccine mandate, it takes the cake.”

By comparison, Pelosi and China were name-checked in six TV ads each; “socialism” was referred to in five ads; and Fauci’s name was invoked in three.

  • President Biden — 25
  • China — 6
  • Speaker Nancy Pelosi — 6
  • Socialism — 5
  • Dr. Anthony Fauci — 3

Interestingly, only one Democratic midterm ad employed a boogeyman in January — Wisconsin Senate candidate Alex Lasry on China — because Democrats are airing far fewer ads at this primary stage than Republicans are. (And we’re going to keep track of boogeymen and bogeywomen through the rest of the cycle.)

Bottom line: Midterm elections traditionally serve as a referendum on the sitting president. And one month into 2022, the TV ads reflect that trend.

But Biden’s starring boogeyman role is also a noticeable shift from 2020, when the then-Democratic presidential nominee wasn’t much of a political lightning rod.

Tweet of the day

Midterm roundup

Less than a month before the upcoming Texas primary, progressive primary challenger Jessica Cisneros has a new TV ad in the state's 28th Congressional District that goes after opponent Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Texas, by raising the recent FBI raid on Cuellar’s home.

There were a few developments yesterday in Battleground Georgia. First, former state Rep. Vernon Jones dropped his primary challenge to Gov. Brian Kemp and backed former Sen. David Perdue. Jones also said he would run for Congress, but didn’t say where.

And then Sen. Raphael Warnock hit the airwaves with his first TV ad of the election, telling voters in the 60-second spot, “At my heart I am and always will be a pastor.” Warnock’s campaign dropped $823,000 on the ad buy, per AdImpact.

Warnock and Democratic gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams have built sizable financial advantages in their Georgia races, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports.

In redistricting news, Kansas lawmakers fell short of the votes needed to override Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly’s veto of the state’s congressional map, The Topeka Capital-Journal reports.

A super PAC funded by billionaire Peter Thiel that’s backing “Hillbilly Elegy” author JD Vance in Ohio’s GOP Senate primary is sounding the alarm that Vance “needs a course correction ASAP,” Politico reports. Thiel is also stepping down from the board of Facebook’s parent company, Meta, to focus on the midterms, per The New York Times.

And just out this morning: The State is reporting that Katie Arrington, the 2018 GOP House candidate who defeated Mark Sanford in the GOP primary but lost to Democrat Joe Cunningham in the general, is launching a primary bid against incumbent Rep. Nancy Mace, R-S.C.

Ad watch: Invoking the Olympics

Two new ads this week are using the Beijing Winter Olympics to attack candidates for Senate.

In Missouri, an ad from Team PAC, a group backing former GOP Gov. Eric Greitens in the open Senate race, accuses state Attorney General Eric Schmitt, also a GOP candidate for Senate, of advancing legislation to benefit China. “What a show,” a narrator says in the ad as fireworks flash on screen, presumably referring to the Olympics. “How did China get so powerful? Friends like Eric Schmitt.”

In Ohio, GOP Senate candidate Jane Timken is under fire in an ad that opens with a compilation of scenes from Olympic sports, alleging, “competition is good if the playing field's level, but Jane Timken's family business rigged the game against US workers.” The spot is from the USA Freedom Fund, which is backing former state Treasurer Josh Mandel.

Data Download: The number of the day is … $3.3 million

That’s how much advertising money has been spent and booked so far in the TX-28 Democratic primary, where Rep. Henry Cuellar is facing a rematch against attorney Jessica Cisneros.

Cuellar’s campaign has $330,000 booked between now and the March 1 primary, per the ad-tracking firm Ad Impact, while Cisneros has about $280,000. Including ad dollars he’s already spent, Cuellar has devoted about $725,000 to ad spending to Cisneros’ $515,000.

A pro-Cuellar outside group has been the dominant spender in the race — Better Jobs Together has spent almost $1.4 million to boost the incumbent, but almost nothing since news broke that the FBI had raided Cuellar’s Laredo home and campaign office.

Several Republican groups have also started to run ads in TX-28, including Building America’s Future, which has spent over $157,000 on ads in the district.

Other numbers you need to know today:

113.97: U.S. figure skater Nathan Chen’s score during his short program performance early Tuesday, a world record.

10: The number of days until the temporary government funding authorization runs out.

908,929: The number of deaths in the United States from Covid so far, per the most recent data from NBC News.

77,014,191: The number of confirmed cases of Covid in the United States, per the most recent data from NBC News and health officials.

ICYMI: What else is happening in the world

A top White House science advisor resigned after a Politico report detailed allegations of a hostile work environment.

Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., and Josh Hawley, R-Mo., are teaming up on a bill targeting forced labor in supply chains.

Florida Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis isn’t picking sides in the rift between Trump and former Vice President Mike Pence over whether he had the power to overturn the 2020 election.