Election 2020 Democrats Tom Steyer

Tom Steyer speaks during the New Hampshire state Democratic Party convention Saturday, Sept. 7, 2019, in Manchester, NH. Robert F. Bukaty/AP

To most voters, billionaire activist Tom Steyer is the guy on TV wearing the light blue button-up shirt, standing in front of a barn, waging a multimillion dollar effort to impeach President Donald Trump.

But now that House Democrats are calling for an impeachment inquiry into the president, this morning Steyer, a long-shot Democratic presidential hopeful, is out with a $1.9 million early state ad buy where he's pitching another message: Term limits.

In the 30-second TV spot, which was shared first with The Post and Courier, Steyer criticizes long-serving Republican U.S. senators, including South Carolina's Lindsey Graham.

Graham has been in Washington since 1995, and has represented South Carolina in the U.S. Senate since 2003.

The Steyer campaign confirmed the ad called "Village" will begin airing Wednesday in the four early voting states of South Carolina, Iowa, New Hampshire and Nevada.

The campaign said $408,000 was spent to run the ad statewide in South Carolina.

"Donald Trump is just one guy. It takes an entire village of politicians to rig the system," Steyer is heard saying in the ad, as a cutout-like image of Trump appears on-screen.

Moments later, the animated Trump is joined by the likenesses of six long-serving Republican U.S. Senators: Susan Collins of Maine; Jim Inhofe of Oklahoma; Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky; Chuck Grassley of Iowa; Alabama Sen. Richard Shelby; and Graham.

"That's why we need term limits: To make Washington work for you," Steyer says. 

Then, the ad pivots away from the animation and to a clip of Steyer addressing the audience at the Aug. 9 Iowa Wing Ding Dinner, where Steyer again emphasizes why he thinks term limits are needed.

Steyer term limit ad

Tom Steyer's presidential campaign on Wednesday began running a TV ad in South Carolina and other early presidential primary states. The 30-second spot took aim at U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., for his lengthy tenure in Congress and called for term limits. Provided/Screenshot

This time, the argument he makes isn't as philosophical. It's about a specific trio of people in politics today, whose names he treats as shorthand for entrenched power in Washington.

"Speaking of term limits, I have six words for you: Mitch McConnell, Lindsey Graham, Chuck Grassley," Steyer says. 

McConnell, Graham and Grassley have been in the Senate for a combined 89 years.

Since launching his presidential campaign, Steyer has called for a term limit of 12 total years for members of both the House of Representatives and the Senate.

Steyer is among 12 Democratic presidential candidates who made the cut for the upcoming Democratic presidential debates in October.

But South Carolina voters who turn on their TVs will soon see political messaging from another Democratic presidential hopeful.

Warren campaign preparing for early state media campaign

The presidential campaign for Elizabeth Warren on Tuesday announced its plans to launch an eight-figure TV and digital campaign in South Carolina, Iowa, New Hampshire and Nevada.

"Right now, our biggest expense as a campaign is our staff, but as the campaign heats up, it will be on media to reach potential voters," campaign manager Roger Lau wrote in a memo, which was emailed to Warren supporters Tuesday morning.

The campaign said the efforts "will be more digital than old-school broadcast television."

The September memo also shared three examples of the ads that will be running, though it did not specify when the ads would run or which ones would run on TV.

The first ad is a one-minute offering called "Root Out Corruption." A 30-second spot is called "Not Too Hard." The 15-second ad is titled "Why Our Government Won't Act."

While each ad is slightly different, all three ads emphasize a shared theme of ridding America of corruption.

All of the spots feature footage of President Trump, Vice President Mike Pence and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

The 30- and 15-second ads both close with the same line: "I'm Elizabeth Warren. I know what's wrong. I know how to fix it. And I'll fight to get it done."

The minute-long clip begins with a biographical introduction to Warren, including her Oklahoma roots, her lifelong dream to be a teacher, dropping out of college and getting married at 19.

She then deploys a familiar line from her stump speech. "My second chance was a commuter college that cost $50 a semester," Warren says.

For those who live in South Carolina's coastal 1st Congressional District, a different kind of 2020 ad started popping up on television screens this week.

Sign up for updates!

Get the latest political news from The Post and Courier in your inbox.

314 Action starts investing in SC01 race

An outside group with a mission to get scientists and STEM professionals elected said it spent more than $150,000 this week on a TV ad thanking U.S. Rep. Joe Cunningham, D-Charleston, for his recent bill to ban offshore drilling.

314 Action, a federal Political Action Committee, is behind the 30-second TV spot that began airing Tuesday in Charleston and Savannah media markets.

Called "Protect," the ad urges voters to thank Cunningham for his work on a bill banning offshore drilling and seismic testing off both the Atlantic and Pacific coasts. The legislation passed the House of Representatives earlier this month along mostly party lines.

"This was the kind of bill South Carolinians elected Cunningham to pass, and he’s getting the job done," 314 Action Fund Executive Director Josh Morrow said in an emailed statement about the TV spot.

The ad, which lists Cunningham's Washington office number at the end, is a sign of how committed the group is to helping Cunningham, a vulnerable freshman Democrat in a Republican district.

Cunningham's re-election battle is expected to be South Carolina's most high-profile congressional race in 2020.

In an interview with The Post and Courier in August, Morrow said, "It’s no secret the Republicans are targeting this race as an opportunity for them. They’re going to spend heavily to try and beat Joe. We’re going to spend equally as much to ensure Joe gets elected."

Cunningham has drawn four GOP challengers, three of whom are current elected officials. The Republican candidates in the race are: Beaufort County Councilman Mike Covert; Bikers for Trump co-founder Chris Cox; Mount Pleasant Town Councilwoman Kathy Landing; and state Rep. Nancy Mace, R-Daniel Island.

The congressional district spans much of the South Carolina coastline from Charleston south, including parts of Charleston, Berkeley, Dorchester, Colleton and Beaufort counties. 

314 Action spent more than half a million dollars to get Cunningham elected in 2018.

The group says the current TV ad will run for 10 days.

Reach Caitlin Byrd at 843-937-5590 and follow her on Twitter @MaryCaitlinByrd.

Political Reporter

Caitlin Byrd is a political reporter at The Post and Courier and author of the Palmetto Politics newsletter. Before moving to Charleston in 2016, her byline appeared in the Asheville Citizen-Times. To date, Byrd has won 17 awards for her work.