|The voters have spoken, but the turnout was less than stellar. Republicans showed up in greater numbers than Democrats in the key primaries where both parties had a contest like Virginia’s 7th Senate District, which means when the dust settles, either party could wind up in control of the General Assembly come November.
Digital spending escalated dramatically in the final weeks of the campaign. Here are the General Assembly campaigns that spent the most on Facebook and Instagram advertising to date (May 2018 – June 10, 2019) ⬇️
Campaigns that won their primary are marked with an asterisk (*). Spending from the Realtors of Virginia PAC was included in Dick Saslaw’s total – the Realtors spent $7,838 running ads from the senate minority leader’s Facebook page, while his campaign invested $18,252 on the platform.
After a grueling primary, Paul Milde beat out incumbent Bob Thomas for the Republican nomination in House District 28. Milde ran scores of Facebook ads in the final week of the campaign dunking on Bob Thomas for his “liberal record” and “leftist special interests.”
Thomas, on the other hand, took the high road and did not run any digital ads attacking Paul Milde. In fact, he ran four versions of an ad with a Google Voice phone number (yes we did call it), offering to explain his positions to voters who have questions about Milde’s smears.
One of the biggest upsets of the night happened in Virginia’s 16th Senate district where former delegate and convicted criminal Joe Morrissey unseated incumbent state senator Rosalyn Dance. Morrissey spent $3,250 on Facebook ads compared to Dance’s $5,293. In his ads, Morrissey constantly complains about attacks from Dance – one video includes him holding up what he says is one of Dance’s campaign mailers, which he says makes inaccurate claims about his record.
However, Dance’s Facebook ads don’t mention her opponent. In the final week of the campaign, she spent $3,262 on GOTV ads that mention issues like health care and her commitment to helping working families.
But how campaigns talk to primary voters is different than how they win over swing voters in a general election, and some campaigns are already gearing up for a tough general election fight.
Campaigns that were forced to spend heavily to win a contested primary will have to quickly replenish their war chest, consolidate their party’s base around their candidacy, and capitalize on the momentum from winning a primary to raise money. For example, Ghazala Hashmi, fresh off her victory in the three-way primary for the Democratic nomination in Senate District 10, is already running a series of digital fundraising ads.
Meanwhile, incumbent Republicans in both the House and the Senate who did not have to fend off a primary challenge are already running persuasion ads on Facebook focused on issues that are less partisan in nature.
Going forward, we’re going to be laser-focused on how campaigns leverage online platforms to win the general election. We’ll be looking at how coordinated their messages are, how many of their ads are fundraising/list-building versus persuasion, which party is outspending the other, and which candidates each party’s campaign committees are spending money to prop up. So stay tuned, follow us on Twitter
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