Oct 5, 2021 - Politics & Policy

First look: McAuliffe calls on Taylor

An illustration shows Virginia gubernatorial candidate Glenn Youngkin and musician Taylor Swift.
Courtesy: Terry for Virginia

Virginia gubernatorial candidate Terry McAuliffe is tugging on the heartstrings of Taylor Swift fans with new digital ads highlighting rival Glenn Youngkin's professional connection to the music star, Axios has learned.

Why it matters: The five-figure digital buy — while relatively small — seeks to draw on Swift's cultural appeal and relevance to win over younger voters.

  • The ads focus on the role Youngkin (the Republican nominee for governor) played as co-CEO of the Carlyle Group in buying Swift’s master recordings in 2019.
  • Swift has complained publicly and passionately in recent years about her battle with the Carlyle Group and music producer Scooter Braun over the rights to her songs that made her most famous — those recorded before November 2020.
  • McAuliffe’s campaign hopes the new ads will connect with and turn out younger voters who are fans of Swift’s music.
  • Virginia's bellwether off-year election — a test of the Democrats' ability to beat a pro-Trump Republican — is scheduled for Nov. 2.

Between the lines: The ad subject highlights McAuliffe's trademark chutzpah. He's been criticized for his own investments tied to Carlyle Group funds.

  • "In 2019, McAuliffe was as a passive investor at Carlyle, and did not have any investments associated with Taylor Swift's masters," Renzo Olivari, McAuliffe's press secretary, told Axios.
  • The New York Times has written that "people in both camps say [the Carlyle Group's intervention] has brought the bitter fight closer to a resolution."
  • The Washington Post also reported Monday night that another McAuliffe ad campaign "touts false ties between Youngkin and predatory dental clinic."
  • Carlyle was a passive minority investor in Ithaca, without a say in operational decisions.

What they're saying: Youngkin spokesperson Christian Martinez told Axios in a statement: “Terry McAuliffe has reached the stage of desperation in his campaign where he’s rolling out the most baseless attacks to see what sticks. It’s a pathetic fall that could only be achieved by a 43-year political hack.”

Driving the news: On Tuesday, Virginia voters will start seeing two versions of the Swift ads from McAuliffe’s campaign across Facebook, Instagram and Google.

  • The McAuliffe campaign told Axios the ads will be micro-targeted to those who are Googling Swift’s name in Virginia.
  • Another target is persuadable voters who like and engage with her content across social media.

The backstory: While Youngkin was Carlyle's co-CEO, Carlyle helped fund the sale of Swift’s record label Big Machine Label Group.

  • “I’m especially asking for help from the Carlyle Group, who put up the money for the sale of my music to these two men. I just want to be able to perform my own music,” Swift said in 2019.
  • In February, the Democratic Governors Association also tweeted about the Youngkin/Swift situation: “This is not exactly why we elect #DemGovs but it’s definitely part of it."
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