The Virginia gubernatorial election will be held on November 7, and with polls showing the race dead-even, the negative ads are getting extra vicious.
It is a well-known strategy that negative advertising has a larger effect then feel-good campaign commercials. That's because it's a lot easier to scare someone away from voting for a candidate than it is to earn their vote. By the end of the campaign, most voters have already decided who they will likely vote for, and negative advertising is seen as pretty much the only way to affect voter turnout with days left to go.
These ads come with a heavy risk, however, and since the Supreme Court opened the floodgates for independent campaign advertising with its 2010 Citizens United, negative ads are now often out of the candidates' control. In Virginia, we've seen private groups on both sides use negative political advertising that, in many ways, has backfired.
After the Las Vegas shooting, the National Rifle Association announced it was postponing its plans to air pro-2nd Amendment and anti-Ralph Northam television commercials in Virginia. The goal of the ad spot was to encourage pro-gun voters across the state, but especially in rural areas, to turn out to vote against Northam and his gun control policies.
However, the Las Vegas shooting changed that. The news that the ad was being pulled generated far more press than the commercial itself ever would. And when the NRA finally decided to air it, the backlash was just as significant. Protests organized outside the NRA's Virginia headquarters, and Northam took the opportunity to blast his opponent for being insensitive to the tragedy, even though the Gillespie campaign didn't fund the negative ads.
Then, this week, an independent organization called the Latino Victory Fund released an advertisement showing minority children running through the streets, being chased and terrorized by a Gillespie supporter in a pickup truck. While the commercial reveals the scene was nothing but a child's nightmare, it warns that this could be the reality in Virginia if Gillespie wins.
EDIT: The Latino Victory Fund pulled the ad off of their social media pages after Tuesday's truck attack in New York City, so we are using a mirror.
The imagery was an obvious attempt to connect the Gillespie campaign to the white supremacist groups that enflamed Virginia in recent months. It was designed to both shame Gillespie supporters and scare minority voters into getting to the polls. This negative ad spot was universally condemned, even more so after a terrorist used a rented Home Depot truck to kill eight people and injure 11 others Tuesday in New York City.
Virginia is one of two states with governor's races this year, meaning that the entire force of the Republican and Democrat campaign arms are being unleashed onto the Commonwealth. With fewer races to focus on, more independent groups are trying their hand at influencing Virginia politics, and wealthy donors on both sides are more than willing to bankroll these efforts. The result is that Virginians are being bombarded by an unprecedented ad blitz that only seems to be building up.
Why? The polls are tightening up. Three of the last six major polls showed Republican Ed Gillespie in the lead. Before that, you would have to go all the way back to mid-March to find a poll showing Gillespie in the lead. Even though Northam continues to lead in the average of polls, this surge has been enough to terrify Democratic groups and embolden Republican donors to increase their ad campaigns.
A lot can happen in the last week of a political campaign, and as the number of Virginia's undecided voters shrinks every day, both sides are hoping that their negative advertising will convince voters not to support the other guy. They don't even care if undecideds turn out to vote. These organizations would be just as happy convincing the other side's supporters to stay home, which certainly says a lot about politics today.
Are you getting fed up with the non-stop political ads? Tell us in the comment section below!