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.
This week the Washington Post reported on how Republicans are feeling better about their chances at holding onto control of the General Assembly – and if you look at how the campaign is playing out in the House of Delegates, it’s easy to see why. Democrats only need to net two seats in the House to flip the chamber blue for the first time since 1998, but several tumultuous news cycles, an onslaught of attack ads, and strong candidate recruitment efforts from Republicans have put Democrats on defense. This week we break down how the battle for the House is being fought on Republican terms.
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 17-23.
Dems on Defense
If you were to only look at the digital ads running in Virginia, you might think that Democrats have control of the state house (which they don’t), because nearly every ad run by either party’s campaign committee is focused on incumbent Democrats, rather than incumbent Republicans.
Republican campaigns and committees have been defining the narratives of each race on their own terms, which has forced Virginia Democrats to focus all their spending on protecting their vulnerable incumbents from these Republican attacks. As a result, Democrats haven’t run a single attack ad against any of the Republicans whose seats they’ll need to flip to win the majority.
And Democrats aren’t just playing defense in terms of defining the narratives of these races. They’re also being outspent online. In the most competitive House districts, Republicans have outspent Democrats over 2:1 on digital ads since November (Republicans’ $24,201 vs. Democrats’ $10,021), and individual Republican campaigns have been far more adept at leveraging paid digital than the Democrats. In addition to the $24,201 spent on Facebook ads, Republicans also spent money on a Youtube ad following the controversies in the executive branch, according to the Washington Post. But at the moment, Google only publishes spending from federal campaigns, so there is no way for us to know how much Virginia Republicans spent on Youtube advertising.
In the most competitive House districts, Republicans have spent $24,201 on Facebook ads since the midterms to date.
In the most competitive House districts, Democrats have spent $10,021 on Facebook ads since the midterms to date.
Republicans have spent $24,201 on Facebook advertising, while Democrats have only spent $10,021.
One seat that epitomizes the struggles facing House Democrats right now is House District 68. Del. Dawn Adams (D) first won this seat in 2017 by less than one point –– the smallest margin of any seat flipped that year –– and she’s already been a target of Republican attacks. In February, Adams was among the Democrats that Republican ads blasted around the choice debate during session.
On top of that, Republicans have recruited a strong challenger to run against Adams. Garrison Coward is a 28 year-old, African American Chief Operating Officer at a local analytics firm. Through organic social media posts and paid digital advertising, Coward’s campaign has steadily rolled out endorsements from key Republicans and attacked Adams as a partisan. He’s also quickly built up a strong following on his campaign’s Facebook page with over 4,400 followers compared to Adams’ 2,700.
Though Adams is facing one of the toughest re-election campaigns this cycle, her campaign has not spent any money on digital advertising to date. The Virginia House Democrats and outside progressive groups have not run a single ad supporting her re-election either.
Finally, to make matters harder on House Democrats, Debra Rodman and Cheryl Turpin, two Democrats who won seats in the House by slim margins in 2017, recently announced that they are running for state senate, which makes their seats even more of a challenge to defend.
Republicans have outspent Democrats online EARLY, and it’s forced Democrats to campaign on Republican terms. Flipping the House blue is going to require Democrats to get back on offense, but they’ll need a significantly stronger digital effort and message to make that happen.
If you (like us) want to do more to make sure Democrats take control of the House and Senate in 2019, reach out to use at [email protected] to learn more about what we’re planning for the 2019 state legislative elections.