Weeks before Virginia’s gubernatorial election, the campaign for Democratic candidate Terry McAuliffe is reaching out to an unexpected constituency: Taylor Swift fans.
On Tuesday, the McAulliffe campaign launched a series of Facebook, Instagram, and Google search ads highlighting his opponent Glenn Youngkin’s role in the controversial purchase of Taylor Swift’s master recordings in 2019. The buyout of Swift’s masters has been a point of bitter contention for the singer and her fans and could be an unexpected liability in the upcoming race.
Last year, Youngkin — the Republican nominee for Virginia governor — retired as co-CEO of the private equity firm The Carlyle Group before launching his 2021 gubernatorial bid. At Carlyle, Youngkin worked with the media executive Scooter Braun to acquire Big Machine Label Group, taking control of all of Swift’s master recordings and, for a time, refusing to sell them back to the singer. Several months later, Swift called on Carlyle to intervene in the deal, saying that the acquisition made it more difficult for her to perform her own music and produce her Netflix documentary named after her record Reputation.
In a Tumblr post at the time, Swift wrote that the purchase of her masters put Braun in the position of “controlling a woman who didn’t want to be associated with them. In perpetuity.”
The McAuliffe five-figure ad buy will target voters who like Swift and engage with her content across Facebook and Instagram, according to the campaign. They will also place ads in Google search results for Virginians that search for her name.
The ads include images of Swift and Youngkin interlaid with the hashtag #WeStandWithTaylor, a popular tag used by fans and Swifties to show support throughout the artist’s battle with Braun. Last November, Braun sold the rights to a separate private equity firm in a deal believed to be worth more than $300 million, according to Variety.
As of October, the Virginia gubernatorial race is in a dead heat. According to FiveThirtyEight’s most recent poll analysis, McAuliffe is projected to win 47 percent of the vote, whereas Youngkin is projected to win 44 percent, putting either candidate in striking distance of a win.
Enthusiastic fan bases have proven to be essential tools for political candidates over the last few years. Sen. Ed Markey’s (D-MA) young supporters helped him turn the tides of last year’s Democratic Senate primary against then Rep. Joe Kennedy III. At least one volunteer for the campaign identified themselves as a former Swifty. Last August, there were at least 100 Twitter stan accounts backing the senator, including accounts like @harries4markey and @barbz4ed.
Correction: This article wrongly stated that Braun sold the rights to the masters back to Swift. He sold them to a different private equity firm in 2020.