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 path to the majority in the House of Delegates and State Senate runs through Prince William County, and PWC Republicans may have just shot themselves in the foot. Last Saturday, John Gray, a certified public accountant, pulled off an upset victory against incumbent Supervisor Marty Nohe in the Republican Firehouse primary for chairman of the Prince William County Board of County Supervisors. Gray campaigned on an anti-immigrant far-right agenda, so how will the nomination of an extremist candidate who will also be on the ballot in every PWC General Assembly district affect both Republicans’ and Democrats’ strategies in Prince William County?
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 April 28 – May 4. This is the first week where the majority of the top spenders are individual General Assembly campaigns – a trend we can expect to see continue as we approach the June 11 primary.
Deep Dive: Trouble in Prince William County
Prince William County has become increasingly diverse and Democratic over the years and contains several of the most competitive General Assembly districts – many of which the Democrats flipped in 2017. And last Saturday, Prince William County Republicans chose John Gray, a far-right extremist, as their nominee for Board of Supervisors Chairman. Gray’s presence on the ballot in every single PWC district has the potential to disrupt the balance in key General Assembly races.
Gray’s primary opponent, Marty Nohe, was a long-time member of the Board of County Supervisors and viewed as the more establishment candidate in the race.
Nohe outspent Gray on Facebook advertising and ran a series of digital ads ahead of the Firehouse Primary to help supporters understand the unique rules and polling locations for the election – a smart strategy for turning out voters in what is typically a low turnout primary.
Meanwhile, Gray’s online strategy was more message-centric and less focused on the unique logistics of the Firehouse Primary. Gray put a thousand or so dollars behind boosting his campaign video where he spouts bigoted views on transgender rights and immigration and repeatedly calls Democrats “radicalized.”
Gray’s campaign rhetoric and platform mirrors Corey Stewart – the current Chairman of the Board of County Supervisors that he’s running to replace. But Stewart just lost Prince William County by over 30 points in his bid for U.S. Senate against Tim Kaine. Stewart’s presence at the top of the ticket in 2018 may have contributed to Democrats picking up three Congressional seats across Virginia.
Could Gray’s bid for Board of County Supervisors have the same effect in key PWC districts? It’s definitely something we’re going to keep an eye on.
And while we’re at it, we took the time to compare how PWC General Assembly candidates have invested online.
Overall, Republican candidates have spent more on digital advertising than their Democratic opponents, but the amount being spent right now is relatively low and some Democratic incumbents like Danica Roem, Jennifer Carroll Foy and Lee Carter already have established social followings online that they can lean on.
The digital race in PWC mirrors that of the rest of the Commonwealth. Republican campaigns in Virginia have been quicker to invest in paid digital to shore up support and grow their base than their Democratic opponents. But we’ll see if that changes as we get closer to Election Day.