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FWIW Virginia: Two Weeks After Primaries, Most Candidates Go Dark on Facebook Advertising; Who’s Filling the Gaps in Digital Spending?

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From FWIW Virginia:

Two weeks after the Virginia primaries, most of the House of Delegate and State Senate candidates we’re following have gone totally dark on Facebook advertising. The campaigns may not be spending directly on digital, but there was still plenty of political spending on Facebook this week.

Who’s filling in the gaps in digital spending? We take a look in this week’s FWIW Virginia. But first…

2019 by the numbers

Here’s how Facebook spending by Republican and Democratic party committees and candidates in the most competitive districts compares since the primary election.

Here are the five biggest Facebook spenders in Virginia from June 18-24:

Days until the general election: 132

Deep Dive: Mind the Gap (In Spending)
Three of the top five political Facebook Ad spenders from the past week are outside groups – many of the groups in our top five this week are making repeat appearances. Early in the general election, these groups are benefiting from the void left by General Assembly campaigns, paying less per impression than they will later in the election when they’re bidding with many more campaigns and organizations for the same impressions. How are they filling in the void? Let’s take a look.

Progress Virginia spent over $11,000 this week on Facebook ads, earning a place at the top of our Facebook Ad buyers for the fourth week in a row. Their website describes the organization as a progressive advocacy group working year-round to build a stronger progressive movement in Virginia.

This week, they promoted 15-second videos about issues like paid family leave and education funding targeted primarily at women in Virginia. The ad’s sign up link directed viewers to an email signup link, allowing Progress Virginia to expand its list of supporters to ask for donations and to take advocacy actions.

Another big spender this week was the Virginia League of Conservation Voters, running a series of ads promoting their 2019 “Conservation Scorecard,” directing users to a generic website where they can look up the rating of their Delegate or Senator.

Finally, the Campaign for a Family Friendly Economy Virginia ran ads similar to Progress Virginia, featuring paid family leave as a key issue and targeting those ads almost exclusively to women. However, while Progress Virginia featured 15-second videos, Family Friendly Economy Virginia is promoting a static graphic. These ads also redirect to an email signup link that allows the organization to build its lists for fundraising and mobilization.

While these outside groups are benefiting from a cheaper market for impressions right now, they won’t be alone for much longer. Campaigns and other outside groups will start buying up more and more impressions as Election Day grows closer, including NextGen America, which the Washington Post reports is planning to spend $1 million in Virginia across 11 GOP-held districts in the fight to take back the House.

Spotlight: HD 40 – Dan Helmer (D) v. Tim Hugo (R)
For each week between now and the election, we’ll be spotlighting one State Delegate or Senate district each week. This week we’re taking a look at House District 40, where Army veteran Dan Helmer is taking on GOP Caucus Chairman Tim Hugo.

Historically a Republican-leaning district, HD 40 is spread across Fairfax and Prince William Counties. Ed Gillespie carried the district in the 2014 US Senate race, but the district has shifted dramatically towards the Democrats since 2016. Hillary Clinton carried the district in 2016 and every statewide Democrat won the district in 2017; however, Hugo managed to hang on by just 106 votes in 2017 (results shown above) and is in for another close race this year.

This week, Helmer spent big on Facebook, spending $1,164 to promote a NowThis video featuring him criticizing Visa for holding a fundraiser for Hugo. The buy is a smart move from Helmer’s campaign – the video from NowThis is high-quality, mobile-friendly content and is the type of content local campaigns rarely have the money or capacity to make on their own. Although we can’t see if Helmer’s campaign is targeting a persuasion or turnout universe, we can see that Helmer is running different skews of the ad, with some linking to an email acquisition page and others linking to Helmer’s ActBlue page.

Tim Hugo’s campaign has run Facebook ads sporadically since last May, and they all prioritize “pocketbook issues” and the work he’s been doing in Richmond. Since May 2018, Hugo has spent $2,372 on the platform – an average of $182 per month. It’s not much, but he has leveraged his advertisements to put forward a more moderate image than some of his Republican colleagues.

Thanks for reading and make sure to sign up for weekly updatesfollow us on Twitter andemail us with ideas of what you’d like us to dive into next.

– The team at ACRONYM

P.S. Here’s a sign-up link for our national FWIW newsletter and you can find today’s issue here.