The Human Rights Campaign invested $250,000 in Virginia as part of a campaign to elect pro-equality leaders and help Democrats flip the state’s Republican-controlled General Assembly, Metro Weekly can exclusively reveal.
The nation’s largest LGBTQ rights organization announced a “six-figure” investment in the state earlier this year — HRC’s largest state legislative investment in its history — but the exact sum was previously unknown.
HRC’s investment formed the core of a wider strategy to help change Virginia’s political landscape and ensure that LGBTQ bills will actually be debated and brought up for votes in the General Assembly, after years of Republican leaders killing, tabling, or otherwise burying pro-LGBTQ legislation.
In addition to the investment, HRC endorsed 27 candidates in key races across the commonwealth and embedded staff members with “Tier 1 priority” campaigns to help maximize turnout among so-called “equality voters” in Virginia — meaning those who say they would be more likely to support a candidate who supports expanding LGBTQ rights.
“In 2017, HRC invested heavily to support Virginia pro-equality leaders, leading to the election of the nation’s first seated openly transgender state representative, Danica Roem,” JoDee Winterhof, HRC’s senior vice president for policy and political affairs, said in a statement. “This year, we knew in order to make change, we needed to invest more than ever before and in key strategic districts to support pro-equality candidates and move Virginia forward.
“HRC knows from our victories across the 2018 cycle that when we invest in organizing and mobilizing Equality Voters early, we emerge stronger and have a higher rate of success.”
HRC ultimately deployed staff, paid media, and increased awareness of anti-equality candidates’ records in nine key House districts, including: Del. Danica Roem in HD-13; HD-40, where Dan Helmer is challenging House Majority Caucus Chairman Tim Hugo; and HD-66, where Sheila Bynum-Coleman is challenging Speaker Kirk Cox — who has led efforts in the House to repeatedly thwart pro-LGBTQ legislation.
The deployed staff assisted with campaign field operations, as well as mobilizing the aforementioned “equality voters” — something made easier in priority House districts that overlapped with priority Senate targets, as HRC staff could identify and recruit members and voters to volunteer for and support more than one HRC-endorsed candidate in those districts.
For example, HD-66 and HD-68 — held by Del. Dawn Adams — overlap Senate Districts 10 and 11, and HD-68 also overlaps Senate District 12. As such, a concerted effort in those districts helped educate voters on HRC’s support for pro-equality Senate candidates Ghazala Hashmi, Amanda Pohl, and Debra Rodman.
In districts that couldn’t have direct staff embedded, HRC utilized digital tools, such as MobilizeAmerica and Hustle, volunteer-led phone banks, and emails from its Online Strategy teams to help mobilize members in all other districts.
In total, members completed over 200 volunteer shifts, knocked on more than 12,700 doors across priority districts, made just under 11,000 voter contact calls, sent texts to voters, and sent 2,000 postcards and “commit to vote” cards to self-identified equality voters.
HRC also launched a paid media campaign highlighting the stakes of the election, the impact of one vote, and the need for pro-equality leadership in Richmond. The campaign took the form of a series of digital ads across social media platforms.
The first ad, “That’s the Tea,” attempted to highlight and emphasize the degree of inaction on LGBTQ issues and gun reform under current GOP leadership.
The second series of ads involved candidates in Tier 1 House races speaking directly to the camera about the importance of one vote in the election. In getting across its message, the candidates invoked the contested HD-94 race from 2017, when Del. David Yancey had his name drawn from a bowl after the State Board of Elections determined he and challenger Shelly Simonds had earned the same number of votes.
In total, the candidate-to-camera ads targeted and reached about 40,000 equality voters in the remaining Tier 1 House districts, generating over 5.3 million impressions. More than 1 in 7 people who saw HRC search ads highlighting the videos clicked on them.
Ads in HD-13 on behalf of Danica Roem, the first out transgender lawmaker in the commonwealth, were the best-performing of the group, with the “click through” rate on Roem’s video (link is for media, so not indicative of actual voter views) being two to three times higher than other districts. Roem’s ad also had the highest level of social media engagement and the highest video completion rate among those targeted voters.
HRC also launched a direct mail campaign highlighting current GOP leadership’s inaction on certain issues, and another highlighting the rise of white nationalism in the commonwealth, invoking the infamous 2017 “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville. Both campaigns asked voters to support their local HRC-endorsed candidate in the Nov. 5 elections.
HRC’s communications team also worked to pitch stories to local and national news outlets highlighting the dismal records of anti-LGBTQ equality candidates in various races, whether it was Sen. Amanda Chase, House Speaker Kirk Cox, or Republican candidate Kelly McGinn, who challenged Roem in HD-13.