Home 2023 Elections Audio: Former VA House Dems Exec. Director Trevor Southerland Analyzes Campaign Spending...

Audio: Former VA House Dems Exec. Director Trevor Southerland Analyzes Campaign Spending in Several Key Primaries on 6/20

In SD37, "Chap [Petersen]'s message to Democratic voters was essentially, 'I am smarter than you, I will tell you what is good for you', and people don't like that message."


Very good job by former VA House Democrats Executive Director Trevor Southerland on Pod VA, analyzing/wrapping up some of the most interesting June 20th primaries, with a focus on how candidates spent their money. A few highlights include:

  • The most expensive primary was between Sen. Louise Lucas and Sen. Lionell Spruill in SD18, which Lucas won 53.1%-46.9% (and where Spruill outpsent Lucas on TV, while Lucas outspent Spruill on direct mail). According to Trevor Southerland, “it was a good strategy [by Lucas], because primary voters tend to be more easily identifiable…because of that, mail can be a big big deal, because you’re able to target the exact voters that you know are going to vote in this election…television is a medium where you’re talking to a lot of people who aren’t going to vote…[television] actually was less effective here than the mail, because the mail can be more targeted.” Southerland also explained how it’s much harder to turn out “new voters” (which is what Spruill tried to do) than on trying to turn out voters who are almost certain to turn out (which is what Lucas did).
  • In general, Southerland thinks that direct mail is “always going to be the first major bucket for any campaign to pay for outside of their own overhead…when used property and targeted well, [direct mail] can be very effective…it’s still a very important part of elections…there are still a lot of people that check their mail every day…and it makes an impact on them.”
  • In the SD36 Democratic primary between Sen. George Barker and Stella Pekarsky, Barker outspent Pekarsky but lost (52%-48%). According to Southerland, the top problem for Barker was that he was in a newly drawn district which had a very small percentage of people who had previously been represented by him (whereas Pekarsky represented a bunch of people through her position on the Fairfax County School Board), so “he had a hole to climb out of,” and “we just did not see him really taking this race seriously and putting in the effort that he [needed] to.” Also, Southerland asks, “Is it good mail or is it bad mail, and how much does bad messaging hurt you?” “In this race, we saw some…bad messaging…it sort of gave the touch that [Barker] was talking down to a woman…sometimes you take it a step too far and you’re really just hurting yourself…bad messaging cannot be covered up with money all the time.”
  • In the SD37 Democratic primary between Sen. Chap Petersen and Saddam Salim, the incumbent (Petersen) outspent the challenger (Salim) by something like 5:1, but lost anyway. According to Southerland: “sometimes [how much money you spend] just doesn’t matter; you’re gonna get beat because the district has left you behind…I think a lot of people have known for a while that [Petersen] has not been necessarily on the cutting edge of the party, and his district has just left him behind.” Also, “Chap’s message to Democratic voters was essentially, ‘I am smarter than you, I will tell you what is good for you’, and people don’t like that message.” In contrast, Salim “ran an aggressive ground campaign…and really just saw a lot of people who were looking for an option other than Chap Petersen and they got it in Saddam…he ran a really good campaign to make this happen…but man, Chap Petersen’s messaging was like bad, just bad.” As for Petersen running on a “ticket” with two other candidates, Southerland said, “it was a bad bet…I don’t know the benefit that Chap thought he was going to get from that alliance…everybody I talked to thought that was a bad idea for him.”
  • In the SD35 Democratic primary between Sen. Dave Marsden and Heidi Drauschak, it turns out that Drauschak outspent Marsden, but Marsden won BIG (63%-37%) despite that. According to Southerland, “this is also the story of Dave Marsden getting out and working hard…he knocked on a lot of doors…Marsden did the work here…this is an instance where incumbency can be an advantage if you’re willing to do the work.” “I think there are some incumbents who probably ought to go talk to Marsden about what it is he did.”
  • In the SD13 Democratic primary between Sen. Joe Morrissey and Lashrecse Aird (which Aird won by a whopping 70%-30%), Aird outspent Morrissey overall, but Morrissey spent $130k on robocalls. According to Southerland, “this is a desperation ploy from a campaign that knew it was losing…that much [money on calls] is absolutely insane…it’s very ineffective, a lot of people hate them…he just put himself in such hole, got himself in so much trouble” and Aird ran a strong campaign, and “it just finally caught up with Joe.” Also, Southerland noted that Aird will do “a lot better job” in terms of actually getting things done in the State Senate for people of the district. And, Southerland explained: “Morrissey sort of did the opposite move of Chap Petersen, whereas Chap Petersen was like…’I’m smarter than you and I’m better than you’…Joe Morrissey tried to walk back some of his stances…then Lashrecse Aird would play a tape of him saying the exact things she said he did…The whole thing for Joe Morrissey was that he was ‘Fighting Joe’, he didn’t back down, he didn’t retreat…and as soon as you saw him go on the retreat in this race, it really just pierced that veil that was around him…” And, of course, women’s reproductive freedom was huge in this primary. Finally, as for Morrissey’s expenditures on things like billboards and calendars, Southerland pretty much mocked them as ineffective and about the candidate’s ego.
  • Then there’s the SD12 Republican primary between Sen. Amanda Chase, former Sen. Glen Sturtevant and Tina Ramirez (which Sturtevant won by a 39.5%-37.8% margin…and where Chase hasn’t conceded and is threatening to run a write-in campaign this fall). According to Southerland, there were “three bad options” in this race, with Sturtevant only “manag[ing] 40% of the vote running against people who are quite frankly potentially certifiably crazy.” Also, Sturtevant “had a reputation of being a moderate and being a sensible Republican, but in being able to win this race, had to sell his soul and become a right/MAGA/QAnon extremist…so it’s really going to be interesting to see what Glen Sturtevant does for the general [election]…” As for expenditures, Southerland said: “in mail, Sturtevant did $80k, Ramirez did $40k and Chase did $10k; that’s absolutely unforgiveable for Amanda Chase to only do $10k in mail…when you see Sturtevant have 8x more money spent in mail than Amanda Chase, that’s going to give him that advantage over that group of people that’s definitely coming to vote…the first thing you do is talk to the people who are definitely voting in this primary…the candidates who did that most effectively managed to win.” And, Southerland added, Chase had her “buckets [overhead, direct mail, digital, TV]  out of order” and “[fell] flat on [her] face…that’s not how you build a campaign…you cannot run general election tactics in a primary, it just does not work.” And in Chase’s case, it looks like she did just one mailer (at a cost of about $10k-$15k per “flight”). Stupid.
  • Finally, Southerland said the primaries were “really interesting,” with some surprises and “really fun to watch,” but now we turn to the all-important general elections, and: “I know the House and Senate [Democratic] staffs have been working hard and…are putting together a good campaign…I am very hopeful that not only will Democrats hold the majority in the Senate, but I think they will also win the majority in the House, and that will be a lot more fun election night than what it was two years ago.”



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