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Is Youngkin’s Ad Buy Sensible? It Depends …

“For the next three months, the tickets and parties will overspend on television and possibly underspend on social media to tout themselves and slam their opponents….”

I made the above assumption just two weeks ago and already the McAuliffe and Youngkin campaigns are proving me right (or confirming my biases).

NBC News [1] has found Youngkin has dropped over $2 million in television ads presenting himself as a great guy without ever telling anyone he’s a Republican. T-Mac, by contrast, “has spent just $55,000 on ads … all of the amount on digital ads.”

One could argue that T-Mac already reintroduced himself to the public during the Democratic primary when he aired ads that looked suspiciously like they were for the general election. Personally, I still don’t think that makes $18,000 a week an acceptable figure.

As for Youngkin, NBC has only one detail about his purchases: “… more than $1.5 million over the Washington, D.C. area’s pricey airwaves to target Northern Virginia voters.” If that’s the case, then odds are that he, too, is underspending on social media (I would add that I haven’t seen a single Youngkin ad on Faccebook or Twitter, but I’m self-aware enough to chalk that up to the ads being outside my social media bubble).

The bigger questions is this: Is Youngkin’s Northern Virginia gamble really a good idea? The answer to that depends on what kind of state Virginia is – or, to be more precise, when it is.

There are those who put forth the case that with the end of the Trump administration, the RPV can blow away the Orange Cloud that blotted out the sun of past victories. This means Youngkin can look to things like Ed Gillespie carrying Loudoun County in 2014 (or, as Chris Saxman [2] does, T-Mac’s narrow win over Ken Cuccinelli a year prior) and decide that shelling out six figures in NoVa before Independence Day is a smart investment – if the Commonwealth really does revert to its pre-Trump ways.

Recent Virginia history does not suggest such a thing is doable. Republicans told themselves similar happy tales in the mid-2000s, when Fairfax County began its dramatic shift away from them. It even seemed to make sense in 2009, when Bob McDonnell led the party to its last statewide victories.

Then 2012 happened – and Virginians made clear there was no going back to the 1990s. Keep in mind, this is now where Republicans hope Virginia is – a place that only narrowly sweeps Democrats into office while leaving open the possibility of Republican victories … with the right candidate … and an anodyne message … and everything going right at the national level – even when it wasn’t enough in 2014.

Moreover, as much as RPV may want to huff and puff, they can’t blow the Orange Cloud away. The last former president to keep himself in the limelight after leaving office was Ronald Reagan giving speeches in Japan in 1989 (ask Marshall Coleman how well that worked out). Trump was ranting about his election defeat in Ohio last weekend.

A Republican candidate with this mentality would put its funds into Chesterfield County and Virginia Beach (where no Republican at the top of the ticket has won in five years), while giving voters in the DC suburbs specific, targeted reasons to vote for them. That doesn’t happen with gauzy, issue-less ads in what is arguably the most politically sophisticated region in the country.

All of that said, it’s still June, and Youngkin et al have plenty of time to change course – or simply prove me wrong.

We’ll see.