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.
Campaigns are becoming more aggressive as they try to define their opponents in the closing days of the election. While plenty of campaigns are staying positive in their paid digital media, many campaigns are going negative to draw issue-oriented and personal contrasts with their opponents.
Who’s going negative? How are campaigns attacking their opponents? And who can’t take the heat? We take a look in this week’s edition of FWIW Virginia.
2019 by the numbers
Here’s how Facebook spending by Republican and Democratic party committees and candidates in the most competitive districts compare since the primary election.
From October 6-12, Democratic campaigns + party committees outspent Republicans on Facebook by $17,500.
Here are the top ten biggest Facebook spenders in Virginia from October 6-12:
*Everytown for Gun Safety is running Virginia-specific ads from its national page. Because Facebook reports a spending range on individual ads, this number is an approximation of their weekly spend based on the spending range for their individual, Virginia-specific ads.
Days left until the general election: 19
State of Play: Mid-October Finance Reports
On October 15, Virginia General Assembly candidates filed their most recent campaign finance reports, which included all fundraising (including in-kind contributions) and spending from September. Here are some of the topline takeaways:
In the House, Democrats outraised Republicans in most of the competitive districts that we’re watching, including in HD 66, where Democrat Sheila Bynum-Coleman outraised GOP House Speaker Kirk Cox by almost $266,000 in September alone and entered October with an almost $112,000 cash-on-hand advantage.
On the State Senate side, the Democratic candidates outraised their Republican opponents in 6 of the 7 competitive races we’re watching. Debra Rodman (SD-12) posted an eye-popping $1 million September haul, but it’s worth noting that about half of that came as in-kind contributions that she won’t have as cash-on-hand in the last month of the election.
Deep Dive: Going Negative
One of the most common types of negative ads we’ve seen this year is the contrast ad, which simply tries to draw a contrast between a candidate and their opponent. Democrat Missy Cotter-Smasal (SD-8) is up with an ad contrasting her stance in support of Medicaid expansion against her Republican opponent, who voted against the bill. Republican Del. Tim Hugo (HD-40) is also up with a contrast ad on healthcare, claiming that Democrat Dan Helmer “will take away your insurance.”
While some campaigns have stuck to the issues, others have gotten personal. GOP Sen. Glen Sturtevant (SD-10) is currently running an ad calling Democrat Ghazala Hashmi a “political opportunist” for taking money from Gov. Ralph Northam’s PAC.
Meanwhile, Republican Ian Lovejoy’s campaign is running the most brutal personal attacks of anyone in the state, calling Democratic Del. Lee Carter (HD-50) a “deadbeat” for missing child support payments and even going as far as launching an entire website to attack his opponent.
Negative ads have always been an unfortunate staple of political campaigns, but most candidates can take the heat. Republican Del. Glenn Davis (HD-84), on the other hand, is really, really, definitely not bothered by Democratic attack ads. He’s so unbothered, in fact, that his campaign’s digital spending has mostly gone to bizarre videos of him standing in front of a green screen complaining about negative ads while stock images show up behind him. And for more proof of how well he’s taking it, he filed Democratic attacks against him as an in-kind donation from the Virginia Democratic Party, arguing that these attacks actually helped his campaign. Really.