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.
On Monday, the Supreme Court heard arguments around an appeal by Virginia Republicans after a panel of judges selected a new map for the Virginia House of Delegates to correct for racial gerrymandering. The new court-ordered map gives Democrats significant advantages in several state house districts – including ones held by top Republicans. And while Virginia Republicans sound confident in the media that the map won’t come into effect in 2019, we looked at how the incumbents most affected are – or aren’t – changing their strategy for re-election.
2019 by the numbers
We’re tracking digital investment by party committees, statehouse leadership and candidates in some of the top competitive state legislative districts 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 10-16.
The Districts They Are A Changin’
On January 22, a panel of judges selected a redistricting map of the House of Delegates that shifted the boundaries of 26 districts. The new district lines put several top Republicans in vulnerable positions for re-election.
In the table below, “Change in Partisanship” reflects the swing in the 2012 presidential vote share from the past district to the one under the map that the court selected, and “New Partisan Lean” reflects the percentage of the vote won by Barack Obama in 2012 in the district. Credit to the Virginia Public Access Project for calculating these numbers in their analysis of the federal court’s map.
Republicans are outwardly confident that the new map will be thrown out by the Supreme Court, but we took a look at how these candidates and their campaigns have switched strategies since the map’s selection. It definitely looks like they’re taking it seriously.
Republican Speaker of the House Kirk Cox’s district is most affected by the changed district lines. Under the 2011 map, the majority of the district consisted of Chesterfield County, a mostly white and affluent area, but the federal court’s map adds portions of Richmond and sacrifices parts of Chesterfield County.
Cox sounds confident that the map won’t stand, but is that what his campaign is signaling? Cox hadn’t spent anything on Facebook advertising since at least May 2018 (that’s how far back the Facebook ad archive goes) but launched ads the week the new map was announced, though it does appear some ads began running a few days prior to the court’s decision. His campaign spent $1,767 on Facebook ads between January 20 and February 2 but hasn’t spent any more since then.
Under the federal court’s map, House District 76, represented by delegate Chris Jones, fully incorporates the city of Suffolk, which is about 40% African American, (the old district only contained around 60% of the city), and loses parts of Chesapeake.
Chris Jones was the sponsor of the 2011 redistricting bill that created the districts in dispute. Two years ago, he argued against redistricting reform saying, “There’s no non-partisan way to do this. Those who claim to be non-partisan if you look at most of their affiliations, they have party affiliations so it’s not nonpartisan. So I think you’re folly to think that’s the case.”
Coincidentally, Jones became a key advocate for the constitutional amendment that would create more independent redistricting shortly after his district shifted significantly towards Democrats in the new map.
FWIW, Jones has the largest war chest of anyone in the House of Delegates with $605,416 on hand as of Dec. 31, 2018. But he hasn’t spent anything on Facebook advertising this year –– and it doesn’t appear his campaign has a Facebook page or Twitter account either.
Under the new map, House District 83, represented by Chris Stolle, will incorporate Virginia Wesleyan University and more of Virginia Beach, which is enough to shift this district into toss-up territory.
Stolle is running for re-election regardless of how the map plays out, and it doesn’t appear his strategy has changed much since the announcement.
Delegate Stolle has been riding high on the passage of his bill that raises the legal age of buying tobacco and vape products to 21. He’s emphasizing it as a bipartisan accomplishment.
House District 91 loses Langley Air Force Base and gains Hampton University and more of downtown Hampton under the new map.
And Gordon Helsel is not waiting around to see what happens. He announced that he would not be seeking re-election exactly one month after the announcement. So far, no other Republicans have announced their intention to run for the nomination here.
No one can be sure what is going to happen to the new district map now that the Supreme Court has taken it up, but there’s no question it puts some Republican incumbents in a vulnerable position – and it looks like their campaigns are ready to take the court’s map seriously.