Donald Trump is focusing on running up his margin of victory in rural areas to offset his weakness in the suburbs.
The National Rifle Association is boosting this effort with a $5 million advertising campaign focused on smaller media markets in battleground states.
The group's dramatic new commercial, which begins running Tuesday, features a woman asleep in bed when an intruder breaks in. Hearing glass shatter, she runs to get a gun. But, as she approaches, the safe with the weapon disappears. A narrator says it takes police an average of 11 minutes to respond to a 9-1-1 call. The spot ends with yellow police tape and cop cars parked in front of the house, leaving the ominous impression that something terrible has happened to the woman.
"Hillary Clinton could take away her right to self-defense," a female narrator says. "And with Supreme Court justices, Hillary can. Don't let Hillary leave you protected by nothing but a phone."
Half of the $5 million buy will go toward broadcast networks in rural Pennsylvania, North Carolina, Nevada, Ohio and Virginia — a few of which Trump needs to find a way to win. The other half will run on national cable, including Dish and Direct TV, which disproportionately serves rural communities.
The group hopes the spot will resonate with moderate women who feel vulnerable in the wake of recent terrorist attacks, from stabbings at a mall in rural Minnesota to explosions on a street in New York City.
The NRA's advertising complements Trump's recent scheduling decisions. He's campaigning in many out-of-the-way places that have not received attention from presidential candidates in recent memory. Tuesday night, for instance, he was scheduled to stump in Kenansville, N.C., a town of 850 where registered Democrats outnumber Republicans 2-to-1.
Knowing that Clinton can run up the score around Charlotte and Raleigh, he's looking for record turnout in exurban and rural areas that have been buffeted by globalization and deindustrialization.
The NRA's buy is meaningful because it comes as Clinton and her allies continue to massively outspend Team Trump on the air.
NRA leaders have gone all-in for Trump largely because of the Supreme Court. In 2008 and 2012, they waited to endorse until October. In 2016, they formally backed Trump in May. They say Second Amendment jurisprudence is especially fragile and fear any Democratic appointee to replace Antonin Scalia — including Merrick Garland — would inevitably roll back the 2008 decision in Heller vs. District of Columbia. The case was decided on a 5-4 vote, and Scalia wrote the majority opinion.
Trump often talks about gun rights during his stump speech, often courting controversy. Last month, he riffed on how "the Second Amendment people " could stop a President Clinton from overreaching.
Last Friday night, he said he'd love to see Clinton's security detail disarm. "Let's see what happens to her," he said. (Many in the mainstream media said he raised the specter of violence.)
These comments closely echo years of NRA messaging: that Clinton is a hypocrite for not letting regular people protect themselves when she has armed guards.
The group backed up Trump in the face of widespread criticism after both incidents. Strategists say people in the heartland understand what he means in a way the "Morning Joe" audience cannot. "Hillary Clinton is an elitist, out-of-touch hypocrite who believes in one set of rules for her and a different set of rules for the rest of us," said Chris Cox, executive director of the NRA's Institute of Legislative Action.