This article was first published in the On the Trail 2024 newsletter. Sign up to receive the newsletter in your inbox on Tuesday and Friday mornings here.

Good morning and welcome to On the Trail 2024, the Deseret News’ campaign newsletter. I’m Samuel Benson, Deseret’s national political correspondent.

In today’s newsletter, we’ll take a look at the growing role AI could play in the 2024 race — and whether voters are being fooled by it.

But first, the latest from the Deseret News’ 2024 election coverage:

The Big Idea

Artificial intelligence wants your vote

Imagine you’re listening to the radio and a familiar voice comes on. It’s Nikki Haley, the former United Nations ambassador and South Carolina governor. You recognize her voice from her takedown of Vivek Ramaswamy during the first Republican debate last month. You turn up the volume.

“Who’s more woke? Haley or Scott?” an unidentified voice says.

“Me! Nikki Haley!” she responds.

If you’re a conservative voter in South Carolina or Iowa, where Haley has been campaigning furiously for months, you might crank up the sound a notch more. “Who fell for the Bubba Wallace noose hoax?” the voice says.

“Nikki Haley, of course!” Haley responds.

The caveat? This isn’t the real Nikki Haley. It’s a voice generated by artificial intelligence. But it sounds nearly identical to hers, and unless your volume was up at the start of the minutelong ad to hear a double-speed voice say the ad was created by “Celebrity Voices AI,” you’d have no reason to believe that this wasn’t the real Haley, completely out of character, bragging to you about how woke she is.

We knew it was a matter of time before AI reached the political stage. Last year, a fake video of President Volodymyr Zelenskyy telling Ukrainians to surrender made the rounds, before being debunked. Before this summer, when Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ PAC used an AI-generated voice imitating Donald Trump, the closest AI had come to American politics were videos of Trump and Biden singing “Wonderwall” together.

Thousands of voters in South Carolina and Iowa are finding that the stakes are now much higher. The Haley “woke” ad — which also features Sen. Tim Scott’s AI generated-voice — is running on radio stations in those two early-voting states. It paints Haley and Scott as “woke” liberals, slamming Haley for removing the Confederate flag from the South Carolina statehouse and Scott for blocking the nomination of a federal judge who’d allegedly supported efforts to disenfranchise Black voters.

It’s bankrolled by the Courageous Conservatives Super PAC, a group seemingly in favor of DeSantis.

“We wanted to be creative,” Chris Ekstrom, founder of the PAC, told the New York Post. He said the group spent $35,000 on the ads to date and will soon be rolling them out in Nevada.

Welcome to the Wild West. It seems every election cycle has a factor dubbed “unprecedented,” and in 2024, AI may be it. In 2012, it was Twitter. In 2016, it was civility (or the lack thereof). In 2020, it was vote-by-mail and absentee balloting.

2024? Chaos.

Some efforts have been made to reign in AI’s prowess in campaign ads, like Google’s new requirement that all AI-utilizing ads on its platforms require a disclaimer. The Federal Election Commission took the first steps toward regulating “deep fakes” last month. And a bipartisan group of senators is working on legislation.

But not all senators view the slow-moving Congress as the best forum to reign in the new technology. “People say, ‘Well, you need to regulate (AI),’” Sen. Mitt Romney said last month. “It’s like, what? A bunch of 70-year-olds in the Senate are going to regulate it? You know, I can barely operate my cellphone. I mean, how am I going to regulate it?”

What I’m reading

  • Biden’s new plan? Allow the Republicans to sell his message for him. That’s according to a new report on the Biden team’s campaign strategy for the coming months, in which they’ll focus on responding to the GOP primary battle and painting a contrast between Republican and Democrat positions on abortion, health care and other issues. The Next Months Of Joe Biden’s Campaign: Showing Voters What Republicans Are Focused On (Dan Merica and Amie Parnes, The Messenger)
  • An interesting look at how health care workers — once a strong Republican voting bloc — are now supporting Democrats. Rural or suburban areas with big hospitals, which once voted reliably Republican, are turning blue — a trend that has been long-coming but seemed to amplify during the COVID-19 pandemic. The GOP Turned Its Back on Science. So Science Turned Its Backs on the GOP (Charles F. McElwee, Politico Magazine)
  • Former Trump national security adviser John Bolton slams the G20 shortly after Biden’s visit: “In international affairs, pretending is not a sound basis for policy. Eliminating G20 meetings would free up the leaders’ time to focus on real issues, not diplomatic niceties.” The G20 should abolish itself (Washington Post)
  • Mythical rumors keep swirling of Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin parachuting into the presidential race, stealing the GOP nomination and saving America. Youngkin, however, seems content to stay in Virginia. ‘Virginia Is the Test Case’: Youngkin Pushes for GOP Takeover This Fall (Trip Gabriel, New York Times)

What to watch

The event of the week is the Iowa Faith and Freedom Coalition’s 23rd annual fall banquet this Saturday, where Republican hopefuls will vie for evangelical support. FFC was founded by Ralph Reed, the executive director of the Christian Coalition during its heyday in the 1990s. Ron DeSantis, Nikki Haley, Tim Scott and Vivek Ramaswamy have confirmed that they will be speaking, and most of the other GOP hopefuls are expected to attend, as they did at FFC events in April and June.

Iowa is the first state in the country to vote in the GOP primary, and the evangelical vote is a dominant voter bloc in the state. Read more about the influence of evangelical pastors on Iowa caucusgoers here.

Anything you want to see from our election coverage? As always, my inbox is open:

See you on the trail.


Editor’s Note: The Deseret News is committed to covering issues of substance in the 2024 presidential race from its unique perspective and editorial values. Our team of political reporters will bring you in-depth coverage of the most relevant news and information to help you make an informed decision. Find our complete coverage of the election here.