Home Guns ACRONYM – “Deep Dive: How is gun safety playing in Virginia?”

ACRONYM – “Deep Dive: How is gun safety playing in Virginia?”

Spotlight: SD 8 - Missy Cotter Smasal (D) v. Sen. Bill Desteph (R)



Earlier this week, the NRA made a $200,000 donation to GOP Majority Leader Todd Gilbert’s “Majority Leader PAC”, the NRA’s largest-ever contribution to a Virginia PAC. While Republicans cashed in their gun lobby money, Democratic organizations and campaigns have continued to hammer home gun violence prevention in key swing races.

How are Democratic and Republican campaigns messaging on gun safety issues in their digital ads? And which gun-focused outside groups are spending on digital in Virginia? 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 compare since the primary election.

Here are the top ten biggest Facebook spenders in Virginia from September 1-7:

*Everytown for Gun Safety is running Virginia-specific ads from its national page. Because Facebook reports a spending range on individual ads, this number is an approximation of their weekly spend based on the spending range for their individual, Virginia-specific ads.

Days left until the general election: 54

Deep Dive: How is gun safety playing in Virginia?

While anti-gun safety groups like the NRA are mostly contributing to PACs and campaigns, gun safety organizations like Everytown for Gun Safety are spending big on digital ad campaigns in competitive districts. Because they spend through their national page, we can’t see their exact spending numbers on Virginia-specific ads, but our best approximation has them as last week’s top Facebook spender in Virginia.

We haven’t found any recent electoral digital spending in Virginia from gun advocate groups like the NRA, but they were active during the special session to keep Republican lawmakers in line. Groups like the National Association for Gun Rights ran a series of digital ads to pressure Republican lawmakers like Kirk Cox (HD-66) and Tim Hugo (HD-40) into inaction after the mass shooting in Virginia Beach.

In contrast, many Democratic campaigns are pressing gun safety as a top issue. Cheryl Turpin and Dan Helmer are among the many Democratic candidates who have run ads focused on their support for common-sense gun violence prevention measures.

Helmer, in particular, has used his opponent Tim Hugo’s refusal to support background checks as his main line of attack throughout the election. Helmer’s campaign is currently running ads boosting a Washington Post editorial criticizing Hugo over his inaction, and his campaign has been hitting Hugo on the issue throughout the summer.

   Republicans, on the other hand, have struggled to reconcile their positions on gun violence prevention with the relatively “moderate” profile they’re attempting to cut in competitive districts.

Sen. Glen Sturtevant (SD-10), in one of the bigger reaches we’ve seen this cycle, tried to claim in an ad that he’s not taking action on gun safety because he just wants to wait until after the election to take a tough vote.

Spotlight: SD 8 – Missy Cotter Smasal (D) v. Sen. Bill Desteph (R)

For our district spotlight this week, we’re taking a look at SD 8, where Democrat Missy Cotter Smasal is facing incumbent GOP Senator Bill Desteph.

Source: Virginia Public Access Project

SD 8 is a traditionally Republican-leaning district based in Virginia Beach. The district voted for Gillespie 53-44 in 2014 and for Trump 51-42 in 2016, but has trended towards Democrats since then. In 2017, Northam narrowly carried the district 50-49 and Kaine won it 52-46 in 2018.

DeSteph first won the district in 2015, carrying nearly 59% of the vote. This year, he’s running for re-election against Navy veteran Missy Cotter Smasal.

Since the primary, Cotter Smasal has outspent DeSteph over 2-to-1 on Facebook, running ads featuring her biography as a Navy veteran and on issues like gun safety and the environment.

DeSteph’s campaign hasn’t run any Facebook ads in recent weeks, but earlier in August they ran a series of ads featuring testimonials from voters in the district and endorsements from organizations like the Virginia Professional Fire Fighters.


Thanks for reading and make sure to sign up for weekly updatesfollow us on Twitter and email 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.


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