The race for U.S. Senate in Virginia has not been a particularly competitive one. In a year in which Democratic incumbents across the country are finding themselves in hot water, Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA) seems to have escaped the voters’ wrath. The revelation that Warner has been caught up in a federal investigation following the admission that he had engaged in quid pro quo discussions with a state senator in order to persuade him to not quit the Senate and surrender that institution’s control to Republicans has, however, upended the conventional wisdom surrounding the race for Senate in Old Dominion.
That’s why it came as a shock when reports emerged in The Associated Press and Politico on Thursday which indicated that Warner’s Republican challenger, Ed Gillespie, had no advertisements placed for the remainder of the election cycle.
“Records posted on federal websites show Gillespie canceling or sharply reducing ad buys in multiple markets. Political operatives who track television advertising told the Associated Press Thursday that Gillespie does not have ads reserved in the final push to Nov. 4’s elections,” AP reported.
Politico contacted three sources which track political advertising and confirmed the AP’s findings.
“Gillespie’s last commercial appears to have aired on Monday, and former Republican National Committee chairman has no broadcast reservations for the next three weeks,” Politico revealed.
Some speculated that the former Republican lobbyist has reluctantly pulled future advertising due to a lackluster fundraising haul, but Gillespie campaign manager Chris Leavitt took to Twitter on Thursday where he said the campaign raised $1.8 million in the third quarter – comparable to the Warner campaign’s $2 million over the same time period.
Some, like columnist Phil Kerpen, are not buying that Gillespie’s campaign has gone dark at all:
Ed has gone dark for a couple days between every new ad. It's his buying strategy. AP fell for Warner fake story to distract from scandal.
— Phil Kerpen (@kerpen) October 16, 2014
What’s more, Kerpen noted, the Gillespie campaign claims it will be back on the air in Old Dominion with a spot released on YouTube on Thursday which seeks to tie Warner to President Barack Obama:
The campaign has not elaborated on why they reportedly reduced ad buys in multiple Virginia markets, but Kerpen suggested that this was a facet of Team Gillespie’s media strategy.
Speaking to the Richmond Times-Dispatch, University of Virginia Professor Larry Sabato noted that it is “never good news” when a campaign goes dark less than one month before an election for any reason.
“Simply put, Mark Warner has the resources to do about anything he wants to do from now to election day, and Ed Gillespie can’t come close to matching it,” Sabato said. “Money isn’t everything in politics, but it’s a big thing.”
According to Politico, Warner maintains $8 million cash on hand with three weeks to go before voters head the polls. Gillespie, according to the Times-Dispatch, had $2 million available as of September 30, “not including a $65,000 loan he had made to his campaign.”