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Tens of millions already being spent on campaign ads naming China

Supporters of former President Donald Trump hold anti-China signs as Trump visits an ice cream shop during in September.
David McNew
Getty Images
Supporters of former President Donald Trump hold anti-China signs as Trump visits an ice cream shop during in September.

President Biden is meeting China's President Xi on Wednesday — and more Americans are concerned with the threat posed by China than at any time in the last 40 years. As a result, China is popping up in lots of campaign ads lately.

Republican presidential candidates Ron DeSantis and Nikki Haley allies are trading allegations, for example. Never Back Down, the super PAC supporting DeSantis, is running this ad in New Hampshire and Iowa, attacking Haley for bringing a Chinese company to South Carolina.

"China's eyes and ears dangerously close," a narrator says.

SFA Fund, a super PAC supporting Haley, is responding, targeting DeSantis and accusing him of lying about Haley's record on China "because he's losing." (It also uses stereotypical Chinese-themed music for its background.)

The group is also running this adtouting Haley's toughness toward China.

"China's dictators want to cover the world in Communist tyranny, and we're the only ones who can stop them," Haley says, as a narrator goes on to say that Haley is "the conservative China fears the most."

So far, $18 million has been spent in the presidential race on TV ads mentioning China with ads airing more than 46,500 times, according to data from the ad-tracking firm AdImpact and analyzed by NPR.

Even more has been spent on digital – nearly $26 million with more than 223,000 digital ads that have popped up. And on digital, it's far more even with Biden and groups supporting him much more active online related to China. Republicans have spent 90% of the TV ad money mentioning China but only 58% of the ads online.

China, by the way, has been popping up like a "spy balloon" in the Montana Senate race. Both incumbent Sen. Jon Tester, one of the most endangered Democrats in the country, and potential GOP challenger Tim Sheehy have traded barbs about it.

"Let me be clear, China is the greatest threat facing our nation," Tester says.

"Jon Tester likes to talk tough on China, I've actually done something about it," Sheehy says before noting he was a Navy Seal.

A version of this piece originally appeared in the NPR Politics newsletter. Sign up for the newsletter here for early access and for more 2024 campaign coverage.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Domenico Montanaro is NPR's senior political editor/correspondent. Based in Washington, D.C., his work appears on air and online delivering analysis of the political climate in Washington and campaigns. He also helps edit political coverage.
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