Welcome to FWIW, ACRONYM’s weekly newsletter breaking down digital strategy and investments across the political spectrum. Each week, we look at how campaigns are – or aren’t – leveraging smart digital strategies to drive narratives and win elections.
While 2020 is critically important and that general election has already started, there’s also another set of critical elections taking place this year in a number of states across the country, including Virginia. All of Virginia’s state legislative seats are up for grabs this November, and control of both the House of Delegates and State Senate hangs in the balance.
On top of that, Virginia is a key presidential primary state – and will vote to award its delegates to a nominee of their voters’ choosing on Super Tuesday. In this week’s issue of FWIW, we take a look at the online battle for control of the commonwealth in Virginia’s State Legislative elections, and share how the 2020 candidates for president are or aren’t putting their thumbs on the scale.
2020 by the numbers
Donald Trump’s campaign has spent over $17 million on Facebook + Google advertising since the mid-terms. Most of his ads last week were pretty straightforward fundraising ads, including these, which give supporters the impression that their contributions actually go towards “building the wall.” I guess the U.S. Treasury should be on the lookout for a check from the Trump campaign. 🙄
Google’s data wasn’t made available in time for inclusion in this week’s newsletter, so we won’t be able to include our typical charts and graphs. Check out our FWIW spending dashboard for up-to-date spending numbers as soon as they’re released!
Here’s how much each 2020 campaign invested on Facebook advertising last week:
The Buttigieg campaign outspent all others on the platform, continuing to slam Ed Sec. Betsy Devos with an education-focused ad campaign targeting supporters nationally and in early states like New Hampshire:
As we approach the September 30th quarterly fundraising deadline, the campaigns continue to ramp up their fundraising ad creative, pushing new stickers and small donor swag gifts in hopes of raising some cash money 🤑. Obviously, we think this is great.
FWIW, here are the top spenders on Facebook for the week of September 1 – September 7:
Deep Dive: The Other Elections 🏛
The 2020 presidential election isn’t the only campaign that will have an enormous impact on the lives of millions. In just two months, Virginians will head to the polls and elect members of the House of Delegates and State Senate, and control of both legislative chambers is hanging in the balance. Control of Virginia’s legislature has major implications beyond the Commonwealth – especially when it comes to 2020 redistricting – and party organizations and outside groups are flooding these down-ballot races with cash.
Virginia’s also a key presidential primary state that, along with delegate-rich states like California, will vote for their choice for the Democratic nominee on Super Tuesday. And we’ve noticed some of the 2020 Democratic campaigns have been using their stature to shine a light on down-ballot Democrats in Virginia, which feels like a win-win to us. More on their contributions to the field below.
By the way, we think these races are so important that we break down digital investment in the 2019 Virginia elections every Thursday in our FWIW Virginia newsletter. Subscribe here!
The State of Play
After winning historic victories in the House of Delegates elections in 2017, Democrats need to both protect their incumbents and pick up just two more seats in the House of Delegates, and two seats in the State Senate in order to win control of both chambers. With two years left in his term, these wins would hand Democratic Governor Ralph Northam a Democratic trifecta to advance a progressive agenda next year.
In terms of Facebook spending from the party committees and candidates themselves, both sides are about even today:
Want a deeper dive and a breakdown of each House of Delegates and State Senate race in the final 53 days of the election? Subscribe to FWIW Virginia!
How have the 2020 candidates helped?
While Donald Trump already made a splash in the state by holding a Jamestown rally this summer, only a small handful of the 20+ Democrats running for president have begun to do their part in highlighting and supporting down-ballot candidates running in Virginia. That’s a shame, because most of their campaigns have massive audiences and extremely valuable email lists for fundraising. Their active support could be a game changer for small, local campaign operations, not to mention that the earned media these candidates can wrangle in visits to Virginia could raise awareness and enthusiasm that boosts Election Day turnout statewide. Since most of the presidential candidates have already signed the down-ballot pledge, we hope the others get engaged soon.
Beto O’Rourke was the first 2020 Democrat to visit Virginia back in April, and has been back since then to organize alongside local campaigns across the Commonwealth.
He’s knocked on doors, live-streamed his appearances in the state, and promoted specific candidates like Amy Laufer for State Senate. Similar to his Texas U.S. Senate campaign where he campaigned in rural, conservative areas, O’Rourke even went to Republican-dominated southwest Virginia to energize local supporters there.
Elizabeth Warren made her first Virginia campaign stop in the state in May, and has paid close attention to this year’s elections there. She’s used her position to call out the Republican-majority legislature for stonewalling gun safety legislation, and endorse local candidates in must-win districts like Sheila Bynum Coleman and Hala Ayala.
Aside from O’Rourke and Warren, a couple other candidates get a solid B+ for trying. Amy Klobuchar and Pete Buttigieg both headlined the Democratic Party of Virginia’s “Blue Commonwealth Gala” in June, which helped the state party fundraise, and likely brought a little more media attention to the event than usual.
We should also note that Joe Biden held a fundraiser in Richmond recently, while Kamala Harris and Cory Booker have picked up a few endorsements from local leaders. Regardless, as November approaches, we should expect to see many more of the 2020 contenders make pit stops in the Commonwealth to promote local candidates – and themselves.
BONUS: The Governors
There are also three high-stakes gubernatorial elections this fall across the South – and although they take place in some ruby-red states, Democrats are expected to compete strongly both online and offline. TL;DR: STATE ELECTIONS MATTER. Here’s how much candidates on both sides have invested on Facebook advertising in the past 90 days:
One more thing… 🤳
That’s all for this week. But before you go, we have one more ask of you! If you enjoy reading FWIW each week, help us grow our following + spread the word! Forward this email to a few friends, or click below to follow @anotheracronym on Twitter!