With the COVID-19 pandemic hampering campaign voter-outreach efforts, digital ad campaigns have become a prominent part of political candidate’s voter outreach efforts. Democratic and Republican gubernatorial candidates have collectively spent close to $90,000 on Facebook advertisements over the last seven days as they work to reach potential voters.
While Democrats can spend their money to encourage voter turnout for their primary election, Republicans are trying to reach a smaller pool of potential voters that are willing to participate in a convention.
After vowing three weeks ago to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars in the primary race on digital ads, former Delegate Jennifer Carroll Foy has yet to follow through with the commitment. “Our campaign is excited to be the first in this race to make a several hundred thousand dollar investment in digital persuasion ads to meet voters where they are and introduce them to Jenn’s historic candidacy and her fight for working families,” Carroll Foy’s communications director said on March 21.
But since that time, the Carroll Foy campaign has spent very little on Facebook ads — spending only $146 in the seven days prior to this article being published. The campaign did not provide a reason for the discrepancy in ad spending compared to what they told Virginia Scope in early March, but they said they still plan to invest in digital advertising.
State Senator Jennifer McClellan is also spending very little on Facebook ads with zero active ads in the last seven days. Del. Lee Carter and Lieutenant Governor Justin Fairfax have also not spent any money recently on Facebook advertising.
Former Governor Terry McAuliffe, however, has spent more on Facebook ads than all of his primary and Republican opponents combined. Facebook is reporting that McAuliffe has spent $50,500 in the last seven days.
McAuliffe is also the front runner in the only public polling that has been released for the primary race.
The primary election where voters across Virginia will choose the Democratic nominee takes place on June 8. The winner will be facing off against the Republican candidate that is set to be chosen in a May 8 unassembled convention — a completely different process that consists of vetted Republican voters choosing the nominee with a ranked-choice ballot that they turn in at one of 37 voting locations across Virginia.
The Republican nomination race is more competitive with no clear front runner due to the convention process and ranked-choice voting method.
Former Speaker of the House Kirk Cox has spent $4,047 over the last seven days. Cox, a longtime member of the House of Delegates benefits from personal relationships for the convention, but his challengers with less experience in state politics could potentially have the money to make up for that advantage.
Pete Snyder, a venture capital that recently announced his gubernatorial campaign has over $6 million in cash has spent $19,308 on Facebook ads in the last seven days. He has also built a large staff of Virginia Republican Party insiders with experience in winning tough nominating conventions.
Glenn Youngkin, a former executive at The Carlyle Group that is capable of self-funding from his personal fortune has spent $14,709 in the last seven days on Facebook. Youngkin has also amassed a large staff that consists of Republican operatives and activists.
State Senator Amanda Chase, the statistical frontrunner in the only public polls released in this race does not have the option to run Facebook ads after the social media company permanently banned her campaign page with over 100,000 followers earlier this year. Her page was banned due to her posts questioning the results of the 2020 presidential election along with her comments after the Jan. 6 insurrection in Washington D.C.
But with an insider process determining the nominee, the widespread social media advertising could potentially be excessive when the majority of people that will see it are not participating in the voting process. Richard Meagher, associate professor of political science at Randolph Macon College said the benefits could still be worth it for the candidates.
“In these races with multiple candidates, and especially ranked-choice, literally every vote counts,” Meagher said. “Many of these candidates are still unknown and name recognition is crucial. A Facebook ad by itself probably won’t win you a vote — but it could get you a crucial second or third spot on a ranked-choice ballot and that could put you over the top.”
Republicans are looking to win the executive mansion for the first time since 2009 and Democrats are trying to retain control of the state government after two years of power. Republicans choose their nominee on May 8 and Democrats on June 8. The general election takes place on Tuesday, Nov. 2.
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