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With 75 Days to Go, Will Virginia GOP Candidates Go Full Trumpian or Tone It Down Somewhat?

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The following is from FWIW Virginia. Overall, I like the analysis, but two critiques, one major and one minor: 1) apparently, they missed this story about Del. Tim Hugo (R-HD40)’s campaign playing around with an anti-Semitic trope; 2) the expression, of course, it “toeing the line,” not “towing the line.” Of course, if the way to win a low-turnout, off-odd-year election in Virginia is “all about the base,” as Professor Rachel Bitecofer argues, then maybe Republicans would be smart to go full Trumpian #MAGA lunacy? On the other hand, would that type of messaging also simultaneously help to motivate the Democratic base to turn out on November 5? Tough call. Also, given that most Virginia Republicans actually *are* far-right Trumpster types, they’d be more honest with voters to just let it all hang out there.

“Build the wall.” “Stop the spread of socialism.” “Defend the 2nd Amendment.” The Republican Party’s messaging nationwide in the Trump era is well known. But, how is that playing out in Virginia’s legislative elections this year? What issues are Republicans driving that they bet will propel them to power in both chambers in November? We take a look in this week’s FWIW.

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.

With less than three months to Election Day, Democrats continue to close the gap in Facebook spending.

Here’s the top 10 political ad spenders in Virginia’s legislative elections on Facebook:

Days left until the general election: 75

Deep Dive: Towing the Republican Line 🚚

Nationally, Trump’s takeover of the Republican Party is clearer than ever. But, in a purple state like Virginia, how does the Republican brand and messaging on issues resonate with local voters?

Make Virginia Great Again 🙄

Far-right Del. Nick Freitas’ re-election campaign in conservative HD 30 continues to take pages straight out of Donald Trump’s playbook, running ads bashing the liberal media and in support of a wall on the southern border. He’ll need to spend heavily on ads like these and mobilize passionate supporters since it seems he’s now waging a write-in campaign in the safely GOP seat. His Democratic opponent, Ann Ridgeway, still hasn’t really spent anything on Facebook advertising.

Kelly McGinn, running against popular Del. Danica Roem in HD 13, is also spreading Trumpian misinformation with her ads falsely claiming that Democrats support “infanticide.”

Protect the majority 🛡

One of the other top Republican spenders last week was Glen Sturtevant, running in SD 10. While a few of his ads mention traditional GOP talking points on abortion, Obamacare, and the 2nd Amendment, most of his recent ads are VA GOP boilerplate centered around “protecting the Republican Majority” to “prevent out of state Democrats from gerrymandering Virginia for a decade.”

“A kinder, gentler GOP”

Contrasting with Freitas’ extremism and Sturtevant’s cheap partisanship is Tim Hugo, running in a competitive race against Dan Helmer in HD 40. In an attempt to distance himself from a racist, extremist party, Hugo’s current ad messaging centers around lower taxes, improving public education, and stopping human trafficking. At the end of the day though, voters will have to weigh his campaign messaging against the fact that electing Hugo and a majority-GOP legislature would empower extremists like Freitas and others. 🤷‍♂️

We also aren’t seeing many Trumpian “Build the Wall” ads from Mary Margaret Kastelberg, running in HD 73, or Ian Lovejoy, running in HD 50. Their core messages are around affordable healthcare and improving education.

TL;DR
In a diverse, politically-changing state like Virginia, the Republican Party has a decision to make. Do they embrace Trump and his national agenda, or do they tack to the center and follow the lead of successful state Republican parties in other “blue” states? This year’s legislative elections will be a key sign as to what path they ultimately choose.
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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.