Welcome to FWIW Virginia, where we analyze digital spending trends on both sides of the aisle in advance of the 2019 Virginia legislative elections. Each week, we look at whose digital spending is up, whose is down, and whose is non-existent across the Commonwealth.
For what it’s worth, some of it might surprise you.
The cash dash is on in Virginia, but which campaigns are actually leveraging digital tactics to rake in dollars online? And what are the most popular ways to use digital ads to aid offline fundraising? We take a look in this week’s edition of FWIW Virginia.
2019 by the numbers
We’re tracking digital investment by party committees, statehouse leadership and candidates in some of the top competitive state house and senate races in Virginia in advance of the 2019 state legislative elections. Here is how investment by Republicans and Democrats compare since the 2018 midterm elections.
Here is a list of top Virginia political spenders on Facebook the week of May 5-11. Going forward, we’ll only list groups and campaigns that are running ads about the General Assembly candidates and their campaigns.
Deep Dive: Fundraising but make it online
This is the first fundraising quarter of the year where members of the General Assembly can fundraise without the limitations of being in session, so we can expect to see more and more donation asks online. We identified a few of the most prominent that keep popping up on Facebook, Twitter and even on Reddit threads.
Yard Signs People who work on campaigns often joke that “yard signs don’t vote”, but they do make good leverage for bringing in new donations.
For example, Debra Rodman’s campaign has started running a more robust digital advertising program, and their latest ad features an offer for a free yard sign , while including a modest ask for an optional donation to the campaign.
Shannon Kane, the Republican running against Delegate Kelly Convirs-Fowler in HD-21, started a fundraising campaign for her son’s birthday who apparently loves putting up yard signs:
Stirring Up the Base
Campaigns are also hitting on hot button issues to spur enthusiasm among their party’s base and raise dollars through digital advertising. For Republicans, we can expect them to continue to emphasize anti-choice positions, while some Democratic challengers have mirrored national progressive Democrats with an emphasis on clean energy and climate change.
On the Trail with T-Mac Former Governor Terry McAuliffe’s recent announcement that he would not run for president and instead focus on flipping the Virginia General Assembly was a game changer for Democrats in the Commonwealth. The impact of that move can already be seen online as Governor McAuliffe posts nearly every single day about headlining fundraisers for candidates for a myriad of down ballot races across Virginia.
McAuliffe is known to be an energetic fundraiser – and it shows online. Seemingly each week, McAuliffe attends a fundraising event for Virginia Democrats all across the state. It’s no wonder why POLITICO reported this week about how some insiders in Virginia are expecting him to make a comeback bid for governor in 2021.
But McAuliffe isn’t the only prominent Democrat getting some attention online. South Bend Mayor and 2020 presidential hopeful Pete Buttigieg is headlining the Virginia Democrats’ Blue Commonwealth Gala in June, and the Democratic Party of Virginia is already running ads to sell tickets and raise money for the event. It’s worth noting that these are the first ads the DPVA has run since the midterm elections six months ago.
Fresh Organic Content ActBlue – the Democratic payment processing platform – has allowed Democrats to bring in record numbers of small-dollar donors in the 2018 midterms. And it also makes it easy for Democratic candidates to raise money on social media.
We took a look at how much reach some of the Democratic candidates’ ActBlue pages have on social media. Unsurprisingly, Danica Roem’s page had the most reach with 150 postings, 27,279 interactions on those posts, and reaching 362,069 followers. Many of those posts came from her #WestboroBackfire campaign that we covered in an earlier issue of FWIW Virginia.
Some challengers have gotten a boost from organic posting as well. Dan Helmer – with the help of the progressive veterans organization VoteVets – had his page organically posted 17 times, with 764 interactions, and reaching 178,791 followers, even though his campaign hasn’t run any paid digital ads on Facebook to date. Helmer also raised the fourth most from small-dollar donors in Q1 among the races we’re watching.
Lee Carter appears to be the only Democrat whose ActBlue page is being shared by supporters on Reddit. His page made multiple appearances on the Reddit threads “Chapo Trap House” and “Late Stage Capitalism,” both of which have an active following and lean heavily to the left.
The Bottom Line
Overall, most campaigns on either side of the aisle haven’t taken advantage of social media or digital advertising to raise money. Even some of the most vulnerable incumbents lack any kind of online presence, let alone a digital fundraising effort.
And though it is critical for campaigns to ask supporters for donations online, they run the risk of treating their digital base of support like an ATM. Fundraising should be part of a broader digital strategy – not the sole component.