#VAGov narrows, outside groups enter the chat
Breaking down digital ad spending from #VAGov + delegate races
Welcome to FWIW Virginia, where we analyze digital spending trends on both sides of the aisle in the 2021 Virginia statewide and legislative elections. Was this email forwarded to you? Click here to subscribe.
There’s just over one month until Election Day in Virginia, and the races for #VAGov and the House of Delegates are tighter than ever. To better serve our readers, we’ve changed our format a little bit to share more spending data and new advertising campaigns at the statewide and legislative level. We hope you find this new format more useful for staying on top of the digital spending trends and tactics during the election’s closing stretch!
Top of the Ticket
Last Friday, Cook Political Report moved #VAGov to toss-up, adding onto the narrowing polling averages over the past month. The race is close and Youngkin still has a small path to victory, but McAuliffe maintains a dominant spending advantage on digital ads. FWIW, here’s how post-primary spending on Facebook and Google ads stacks up in the Governor’s race:
From Critical Race Theory to trans students’ rights and school mask mandates, Virginia’s public schools have become a political battlefield in this year’s elections. The McAuliffe campaign is convinced that at least on responsible COVID policy, this could work to their advantage. One of McAuliffe’s latest digital spots attacks Youngkin for refusing to back vaccine mandates for teachers and mask mandates for students + staff.
Just in the past 48 hours, however, the Youngkin campaign seized on a clip from Tuesday night’s debate to form a new line of attack against McAuliffe, falsely claiming that he is opposed to parents’ involvement in their kids’ education. We expect them to go big on this one, and just this morning they launched a new Facebook ad featuring the clip:
Youngkin has also been running ads hitting McAuliffe on public safety, specifically over his handling of the Virginia Parole Board. This 60 second digital spot featuring a former cop who was shot in the line of duty, attacking McAuliffe’s parole board for being too lenient on releasing convicted murders.
Zooming out, here is how total digital ad spending (national and local targeting) on Facebook and Google stacked up this week in Virginia’s statewide races.
Looking further down the ticket, Hala Ayala’s campaign is once again the top digital ad spender of the down-ballot statewide races. Her campaign is up with ads hitting GOP nominee Winsome Sears for her support of banning abortion without exceptions. Meanwhile, Sears has yet to run a single ad on Facebook or Google since the GOP convention, allowing Ayala to define the online campaign on her own terms.
Across the Commonwealth
Looking beyond the statewide races, here are the top 10 spenders specifically targeting Facebook users in Virginia last week.
National progressive non-profits like Stand for Children and the Economic Security Project continue to blanket Facebook with ads selling the accomplishments of the Democratic majorities in Congress, particularly highlighting the expanded Child Tax Credit. While these ads are running nationwide to influence the political environment heading into the 2022 midterms, the increasing nationalization of Virginia’s races means that these ads could have an impact on Virginia’s election as well.
...And here are the top 10 spenders specifically targeting Virginians on Google’s platforms.
New to the top spenders on Google is Accountability Virginia PAC. The group appears to be aligned with Democrats and is running some 🔥 ads attacking Glenn Youngkin from his right in rural Virginia. The ad attacks Youngkin for being the only statewide GOP candidate not endorsed by the NRA, and appears to be targeted at turning off his base voters.. You can see the ad’s geographic targeting below:
We’re also tracking cumulative digital ad spending across the state, including spending from candidates for statewide offices, competitive or potentially competitive Delegate races (any race under a 15 point margin in 2019), and partisan outside groups with spending specifically targeted at Virginia elections.
We also picked up new spending on Snapchat from Planned Parenthood Virginia PAC, which is running Snapchat ads attacking GOP delegate candidates for their stances on reproductive rights (including some individualized ads with specific oppo) and touting their endorsements of Democratic candidates.
House of Delegates
While statewide races and outside groups dominate most of the spending across the commonwealth, digital ad spending in delegate races continues to climb each week. Here’s how total Facebook + Google ad spending from delegate candidates from each party stacks up:
And here’s the top 10 delegate campaign spenders on Facebook + Google over the past week:
Chris Hurst’s campaign once again leads the pack when it comes to digital ad spending - his campaign has consistently spent more on Facebook + Google than nearly every other delegate campaign since the end of the summer. Joining Hurst’s campaign near the top of the chart is Roslyn Tyler’s campaign, which spent $3,369 on Facebook + Google from September 20th - 26th.
Tyler is in for a tough re-election bid after she faced a close call in 2019 despite not having a Republican opponent since 2013. She’s in a re-match with 2019 GOP nominee Otto Wachsmann, and her campaign isn’t taking any chances - they’re running ads touting Tyler’s accomplishments in the legislature and her strong local ties.
Thanks for reading this week’s FWIW Virginia! We’re so excited to be back following these critical elections in the Commonwealth. If you enjoy reading this type of content each week, we hope you’ll support our work by clicking share and tweeting out this newsletter below! As always, email us with ideas of what you’d like us to dive into next.
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