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In Virginia Governor’s Race, national issues dominate Ad Wars

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It’s a long-standing mantra in elections: All politics is local. But the advertising wars in the race for governor of Virginia indicate that the national is the new normal.

In a contest seen as an indicator for the midterms of 2022, the battle between Terry McAuliffe, a Democrat and former state governor, and Glenn Youngkin, a Republican, further sparked the cultural issues that are currently inflaming national politics. than traditional stress points like State and Local Taxes.

At the top of the list of the most running ads in the race are the attacks on abortion (although there is no current law or contestation of abortion rights in Virginia) and schools ( amid national debates over curriculum, critical race theory, and mask mandates).

In a costly race with in-person campaigns still limited by the pandemic, national issues debated over the airwaves set the tone. The two contestants together spent more than $ 36 million on TV ads at just over $ 18 million each, according to AdImpact, an ad tracking company. The external groups and the super PACs have largely remained on the sidelines.

According to AdImpact, more than 60% of spend was spent on ads with at least negative comparisons or attacks.

Four of the five most expensive ads for the McAuliffe campaign have been negative, with a particular focus on abortion, an issue that has skyrocketed to national policy after Texas passed a new law that nearly bans all abortions.

The campaign invested the most money in a 60-second commercial that snatched up a hidden camera video recorded by a liberal activist that showed Youngkin openly worried about losing “independent votes” on the issue, but promising to go “in offense” to restrict access to abortion if the Republicans also take state house. McAuliffe’s campaign portrayed Youngkin as beholden to the conservative fringe of the Republican Party.

“Glenn Youngkin has been caught,” a female narrative voice whispers as the video reports fill the screen. “Taken on video admitting his far-right agenda.”

In another ad, the McAuliffe campaign highlights a doctor who claims that Youngkin’s support for abortion limits “would hurt my patients” and that he is inserting politics into science and medicine, an echo of the common reviews of the anti-vaccine and anti-mask. movements.

Other national cleavages, such as voting rights, police reform, and public health, play a central role in the McAuliffe campaign’s efforts to paint Youngkin with the patina of a Republican Trump; over 75% of McAuliffe’s ads include an attack or contrast with his opponent.

For the Youngkin campaign, one ad dominates the rotation: an excerpt from a debate in September where McAuliffe said, “I don’t think parents should tell schools what to teach. The comment followed a row between the two candidates over a veto signed by McAuliffe as governor in 2017 of legislation that allowed parents not to allow their children to study material deemed sexually explicit.

Schools quickly rose to the forefront of national political rejects, with right-wing media embarking on a crusade against school mask mandates and critical race theory, and leading conservative pundits urging Republicans to focus on school board races. While McAuliffe’s quote didn’t come from the current struggle over schools, it quickly resonated. The Youngkin campaign spent over $ 1 million on advertising.

Youngkin offers a more balanced mix of positive and negative ads, including plenty of biographical ads, highlighting his background as a college basketball player and businessman, and portraying him as an outsider to Virginia politics who can push forward. things.

But the disparity in the ratio of positive to negative announcements does not necessarily reflect one candidate on the rise or another on the defensive. Youngkin, who has spent most of his career in business, must continue to present himself to voters while trying to define McAuliffe through negative ads.

McAuliffe, a former governor who stepped down in 2018 voting safely over water, is a known quantity in the state, which bars governors from serving two consecutive terms. Little in need of biographical ads, McAuliffe’s campaign has gone on the offensive more aggressively, including more out-of-the-box national attack ads on Taylor Swift’s music rights.

In a small digital advertising effort, the McAuliffe campaign purchased ads on Instagram, Facebook and Google that highlighted the claim that the Carlyle group, which Youngkin led as co-managing director, helped fund a sale of the rights to his music.

An announcement ends with a nod to Swift’s words: “Cause Glenn, now we got bad blood.”

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