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FWIW Virginia: Breaking Down the Special Session

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From FWIW Virginia:

Earlier this week, the Governor’s special session on gun control quickly ended with Republican inaction, with both GOP-led chambers voting to adjourn after two hours. Although the session ended without common-sense gun control laws, there was plenty of action on social media as candidates sought to define the narrative.

Who leveraged paid and organic social media around the gun debate and special session to build their lists, acquire donors, and persuade voters? We take a look in this week’s edition of 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 July 3-9:

Days until the general election: 117

Deep Dive: Breaking Down the Special Session 📣
Although Republicans stonewalled common-sense gun reform legislation, they didn’t escape the political battle scot-free. Democratic campaigns and affiliated committees used the highly-salient event to build lists, acquire donors, and persuade voters. Here’s how they did it:

Both the House and Senate Democratic caucuses ran donor and email acquisition campaigns in the lead up to the special session, as well as during and after. Party caucuses can transfer funds to candidate committees, making their fundraising an important tool for shoring up funds in key races.

 
Candidates ran their own list building ads as well. Ghazala Hashmi, the Democratic candidate in SD10, started running a series of “Stop the NRA” advertisements that link to an email signup form. Her Republican opponent, incumbent Senator Glen Sturtevant, had… absolutely nothing to say about the special session on either paid or organic social media. Yet another example highlighting how many Republicans are struggling to reconcile their extreme positions in rapidly-changing districts.
Democratic candidates also utilized organic social media channels to push messages and establish contrasts in their races. Delegate Chris Hurst, who has been personally impacted by gun violence, spoke about his personal story. His story of a loved one’s murder caught fire on Twitter, driving the narrative in his own race and in districts throughout Virginia.
Although the special session is over, gun safety will likely remain an issue for many Democratic candidates throughout the election. Republicans have made it clear that the only way common-sense gun safety reforms will ever pass in Virginia is to vote them out — expect Democratic candidates to continue to use the issue to persuade and turn out voters.
Spotlight: HD 27 – Larry Barnett (D) v Roxann Robinson (R) 
For our district spotlight this week, we’re taking a look at HD27, where Democrat Larry Barnett is back for a rematch with Delegate Roxann Robinson, who won in 2017 by just 128 votes.

HD27 is located in Chesterfield County, southwest of Richmond. Historically a Republican-leaning district, HD27 has moved towards swing district territory in recent years, voting for Trump 49-45 in 2016 and for Northam 51-48 in 2017. However, Tim Kaine defeated Corey Stewart in 2018, carrying 54% of the vote in the district.

Although Barnett doesn’t crack our weekly list of top five spenders on Facebook, Barnett is one of the most consistent Democratic digital spenders, opening up the largest post-primary Facebook spending advantage of any Democratic candidate. His campaign has almost exclusively run Facebook-like campaigns, and while it would be better to also serve list building or donor acquisition ads to a left-leaning audience, having more page likes will make future ads more credible, since Facebook displays which of your friends also liked the page. Also, even if only a fraction of those who like a page will actually see organic content, having more page likes could still improve the credibility and reach of Barnett’s organic posts.

On the Republican side, Robinson hasn’t run Facebook ads since May when she promoted her campaign’s kickoff. Digital alone isn’t enough to win, but with Robinson dark on Facebook and Barnett consistently spending on meeting voters where they’re at, Barnett is improving his odds at winning his rematch in November.

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– 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.