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.
Even though Democrats have won Virginia in the last three presidential elections and swept the statewide offices since 2013, Donald Trump is feeling bullish about his chances of flipping the Commonwealth red in 2020. He even plans to campaign in Virginia ahead of the 2019 elections. Meanwhile, Democrats running for president are criss-crossing the nation to make their case to the American people, but none have made a stop in Virginia yet (that may change next week). In this edition of FWIW Virginia, we’re taking a look into how the 2020 presidential election is affecting the race for control of the General Assembly in 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 March 31-April 6.
Last week, in the wake of a close loss in the Wisconsin supreme court election, former U.S. Attorney-General Eric Holder said that he was working on a campaign pledge for the 2020 Democrats to commit them to turning some of their attention to down-ballot races. This seems especially important since all 140 seats in the General Assembly are up this year, but so far, none of the 2020 candidates have held campaign events in Virginia – one of a handful of Super Tuesday states that hasn’t been visited yet. That may change next week, as Beto O’Rourke appears to plan to make a swing through Virginia and North Carolina. We’ll see if his visit to the Commonwealth will entice more 2020 Democrats to put a focus on helping boost state legislative campaigns like they have done for special elections in Iowa and South Carolina.
On the Republican side, Donald Trump already appears to have big plans for his campaign in Virginia. POLITICO reported last week that Trump is looking to expand the 2020 map to the Commonwealth and plans to use the 2019 elections as a test of whether he can be competitive there. In addition to holding rallies and fundraisers for Virginia Republicans, the Trump campaign is deploying field staffers in the coming months – much like Obama’s reelection campaign did in 2011.
But the reality is that 2020 hasn’t shaped the 2019 campaigns – at least not yet. Most Republican candidates are zeroing in on issues like jobs and infrastructures to localize their races rather than focusing on issues receiving national attention. And the controversies in Virginia’s executive offices have overshadowed events in Washington.
The only competitive district where Republicans are embracing Trump in their digital advertising is in the HD-28 primary that we covered in a previous issue of FWIW Virginia.
We noticed that Democrats actually seem more eager to welcome Trump’s intervention than Virginia Republicans. Nationalizing this year’s state legislative elections could help Democrats take attention away from the controversies surrounding Virginia’s statewide officeholders and fuel a wave election like we saw in 2017 and 2018.
However, Trump’s Virginia approval rating is currently higher than Ralph Northam’s (44% compared to 40%) according to a recent poll from Christopher Newport University, though the Morning Consult shows that Virginia voters have disapproved of the president since July 2017.
We’re going to keep our eye on which 2020 Democratic hopefuls start boosting campaigns in Virginia. With so many presidential candidates desperately trying to differentiate themselves from the pack, using their national platform to help out down-ballot races would be a great – and highly important – way to build goodwill ahead of the primary contests.
Trump wants to get involved in Virginia’s elections this year, but Republicans haven’t fared so well in statewide and presidential elections in recent years. Will that change in 2020? Will the Democratic presidential field impact Virginia’s legislative elections in 2019 – and how will that translate come Super Tuesday? You can bet we’ll be watching closely to answer all these questions in the coming weeks and months.
If you (like us) want to do more to make sure Democrats take control of the Virginia House and Senate in 2019, reach out to us at [email protected] to learn more about what we’re planning for the 2019 state legislative elections.