The Lead

House Rs, Ds trade social media ads over COVID-19 reopening vote

By: - April 24, 2020 2:43 pm

Facebook ads sponsored by the campaign arms of the House Republican and Democratic committees. (Facebook screenshots)

The campaign arms of Democrats and Republicans in the state House are trading blows over vulnerable lawmakers’ stance on a bill to let more Pennsylvania businesses open amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

According to Facebook’s ad database the House Democratic Campaign Committee spent about $6,300 on social media ads attacking 21 Republican lawmakers last week who voted for a proposal to reopen some businesses. 

A Democratic ad against House Speaker Mike Turzai, R-Allegheny. (Facebook screenshot)

The House Republican Campaign Committee has so far spent $541 on 10 active ads attacking Democrats who voted against the reopening bill.

Both sets of ads appeared on Facebook and Instagram.

The attacks are over an April 14 House vote that would have realigned Pennsylvania’s business openings during the COVID-19 pandemic with federal guidelines. The bill would have likely had the biggest impacts on the construction and manufacturing industries. 

Gov. Tom Wolf had ordered businesses closed in March to contain the spread of COVID-19, to the ire of business groups who have pointed to transparency concerns and lack of consistency.

The bill passed the House in a near party line 107-95 vote, before the Senate approved it 29-21 on party lines. The Wolf administration said the proposal could justify a significant number of unessential business reopenings. Gov. Tom Wolf vetoed the bill Monday.

Since, Wolf has announced he will begin to reopen Pennsylvania in phases starting May 8; construction may restart on May 1 under strict public health guidance.

The Democratic ads, which ran from April 16 to 21, targeted almost two dozen incumbent House Republicans who will likely be near the top of Democrats list as they aim to flip nine seats and win back the lower chamber in November.

A Republican ad against House Minority Leader Frank Dermody, D-Allegheny. (Facebook screenshot)

Democrats are heavily focused on southeastern Philadelphia suburban districts to build a potential majority, but the ads placements indicate a wider map, including districts in the Pittsburgh and Harrisburg suburbs as well as the Poconos.

House Speaker Mike Turzai, R-Allegheny, was also targeted, but he is not running for reelection. Ads also targeted two lawmakers who won office in a March special election sweep by the GOP. 

The Republican ads started April 20, and are still active, targeting Democratic incumbents in Trump-supporting districts in the northeast and west, including House Minority Leader Frank Dermody, D-Allegheny, The ads also attacked two suburban Philly Democrats who flipped GOP-held seats in 2018. 

Democrats, even while winning big in the Philadelphia collar counties in 2018, have steadily lost ground in ancestrally blue seats in rural counties. 

While Democrats flipped 14 districts in the midterms, they only netted 11 new seats in Harrisburg due to Republican’s counter offensive. That included turning once deep-blue Johnstown, in Cambria County, red. 

Democrats have since launched counter ads defending five of their vulnerable members’ votes, starting April 21. The ads are not included in their total spending.

A Democratic ad defending Rep. Pam Snyder, D-Greene (Facebook screenshot)

The House Democratic Campaign Committee did not reply to a request for comment. In an email, the House Republican Campaign Committee called the Democratic attacks “false and meant to do nothing more than create fear.” 

According to polling, Pennsylvanians back Wolf’s COVID-19 mediation efforts. In a Fox News poll released Thursday, 69 percent of Pennsylvanians approved of Wolf’s measures, with 62 percent saying his stay at home order struck the right balance. 

Those numbers include a 50 percent approval rating from Republicans.

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Stephen Caruso
Stephen Caruso

Stephen Caruso is a former senior reporter with Pennsylvania Capital-Star. Before working with the Capital-Star he covered Pennsylvania state government for The PLS Reporter.