Welcome to the debut edition of Political Ads, a weekly newsletter that offers unique insights into how candidates and outside groups are communicating with Virginia voters. The weekly newsletter will track spending and explore the images and videos used on TV and Facebook.
VPAP compiles data to create unique, nonpartisan resources for Virginia voters. Our political ad presentation draws from the Facebook Ad Library and data purchased from Kantar Media, a leading compiler of media spending.
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For much of the early summer, President Trump outspent Joe Biden on Facebook ads aimed at Virginia residents. Biden's spending surged in August when he announced U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris would be his running mate in the run-up to the Democratic National Convention.
Facebook Ad Spending in Virginia - Weekly
The Trump campaign used Facebook primarily to raise money and sell MAGA hats and other merchandise. The message ad with most interaction was a video on China and trade, in which Trump said he would reverse years of "Biden betrayal."
Biden's campaign has used Facebook ads to raise money, build a list of supporters in Virginia and promote access to affordable healthcare. The ad that gained the most impressions was an ad advocating affordable healthcare "for everyone," with a link to donate to Biden's campaign.
In 2012, a Super PAC created to help Democrats hold their U.S. Senate majority turned its attention to Virginia. In July and August, the Majority PAC spent nearly $600,000 in TV ads bashing Ed Gillespie, the Republican challenging U.S. Sen. Mark Warner.
Warner is up for re-election again this November. Only this summer the race for one of Virginia's two Senate seats generated no -- zero -- TV spending. Warner ended June with $9.2 million in the bank, or 40 times more than Republican challenger Daniel Gade.
After Labor Day, the Gade campaign staked a modest $123,000 buy in the Richmond and Norfolk TV markets to run an ad that introduces him to voters. A U.S. Army veteran who lost a leg in Iraq, Gade talks about his history of overcoming obstacles to serve his country.
Warner spent $340,000 (including $100,000 in the Washington, D.C. market) to broadcast a rotation of three separate ads. The spot getting the most play, so far, criticizes President Trump for threatening to withhold funds for schools that reopen online. Warner says he trusts parents and local officials to decide when schools can reopen safely.
So far, Facebook advertising is higher in the Hampton Roads rematch between Rep. Elaine Luria, and former Rep. Scott Taylor than in any other congressional district in Virginia. Rep. Luria has spent nearly $10,000 each week on average, more than twice as much as Republican Scott Taylor.
Luria's most viewed Facebook ad -- with more than 1 million impressions -- highlights her endorsement by former Republican Senator John Warner. The bulk of the Democrats' ads focus on fundraising and signing people up to vote by mail.
Just as Luria presents herself as a centrist Democrat, Taylor's Facebook ads emphasize positions not typical for a Republican. His most-viewed ad, so far, features a video of the candidate talking with two members of BLM 757, a social justice group whose protests have led to arrests in Hampton and Virginia Beach. Several of Taylor's ads feature DIY videos -- sometimes selfies -- that show the candidate talking directly to the camera. In one spot, Taylor -- speaking in Spanish -- touts his support of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA).
In this open seat now held by a Republican, Democrat Cameron Webb was the first candidate to hit the airwaves in late August. His $180,000 broadcast TV buy in the Charlottesville and Roanoke-Lynchburg markets was titled "Centered" -- a bio spot that seeks to introduce him to general election voters in this Republican-leaning district. The ad portrays Webb as a centrist who values faith and family. Webb, a physician, is shown wearing a white coat and tending to patients, while a voice over stresses the importance of the "free market" in healthcare. In the ad, Webb does not mention social justice, a theme stressed in his social media posts aimed at Democratic primary voters in June. See Webb's other TV ads here.
Republican nominee Bob Good, who defeated Rep. Denver Riggleman in a GOP convention earlier this year, has also launched his first TV ad. Good's campaign purchased over $46,000 of runtime in the first weeks of September. Amid footage of riots, the 30-second spot claims Webb supports a litany of ideas that are too "radical" for the 5th District, including defunding police, "government-run healthcare," higher taxes and "crime unchecked."
Webb responded to this attack with an ad refuting Good's claims, featuring endorsements from several current and former law enforcement officials from around the 5th District.
The race for the congressional district north of Richmond is shaping up to be the most expensive int the state. So far outside groups have outspent the candidates themselves and have reserved nearly $3 million in TV time for the closing weeks of the campaign.
The House Majority PAC, a Democratic super PAC, has been Incumbent Rep. Abigail Spanberger's second largest supporter so far. Using an affiliated organization, House Majority Forward, they have run an ad in the Richmond market touting Spanberger's bipartisan efforts to pass a bill for funding high-speed internet in rural areas.
Republican challenger Nick Freitas has also received outside help through TV spending. His largest supporter so far is the Club for Growth Action. In the first weeks of September, CFA began running two ads attacking Spanberger, both focusing on different financial actions by her campaign. The first ad claims that Spanberger used taxpayer dollars to run advertisements for her campaign, while the second ad attacks Spanberger for breaking her promise not to take money from corporate PACs.
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