Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-Va.) and his Republican opponent, Daniel Gade, released their first major television ad buys of the campaign over the holiday weekend, as Gade tries to boost his name recognition against the two-term senator and popular former governor.

Gade, a 25-year Army veteran who lectures in public affairs at American University, faces a steep climb in his bid against Warner, with political analysts calling the race a safe win for Democrats. Still, Warner can’t be “caught sleeping at the wheel” in the race, said Jessica Taylor, Senate and governors editor of the Cook Political Report, especially after his close call with Republican challenger Ed Gillespie in 2014.

And in an election year in which scores of voters are expected to be voting early through the mail, Taylor said, it’s important for both candidates to start rolling out ads sooner rather than later — even in a state that President Trump lost by five percentage points in 2016 and where no Republican has won statewide since 2009.

“For Warner, and I think for any incumbent, you can’t be too careful in an unpredictable political environment,” Taylor said. “Warner is a political fixture in this state. . . . So if you’re Gade, who is unknown, you need to get your name out there.”

Warner, who has raised over $14 million — 14 times as much as Gade — launched a seven-figure, eight-week statewide ad buy that started Friday, featuring three 30-second advertisements.

Two of the spots focus on coronavirus relief, with one decrying Trump’s attempts to pressure public schools to reopen; the third touts Warner’s work to lower prescription drug costs by giving the government power to negotiate, featuring his daughter’s fight with Type 1 diabetes and the cost of her insulin.

Gade’s 30-second ad, “Right Choice,” started Monday and is slated to run through September at $260,000 per week in the Norfolk and Richmond broadcast markets and on Washington cable.

The ad features Gade, who lost his right leg in combat in Iraq in 2005, introducing himself to voters as he pedals a bike with his left leg, and explaining that he is accustomed to making tough choices. “My entire life, I’ve faced forks in the road, from West Point to leading men into combat to not letting my injuries define me,” he says.

Gade, 45, joined the Army at 17 and remained in the service until his retirement in 2017. After getting wounded, Gade advised the federal government on policy affecting wounded veterans and worked to help veterans find employment. He’s become a triathlete, winning the Ironman 70.3 World Championship paratriathlon category in 2010.

Gade said his own experience in the health-care system informed his platform, which includes protecting those with preexisting conditions and making certain marketplace overhauls within the existing framework of the Affordable Care Act. Some changes he espouses include making it easier to sell insurance across state lines, controlling prescription drug prices, and increasing the size of health savings accounts.

“I spent so much time as a patient — I’ve had probably 45 or 50 surgeries in my life — so I have deep and personal experience with the health-care system,” said Gade, who, like Warner, lives in Alexandria.

Taylor said that Gade’s profile as a veteran may appeal to Virginia’s military population — but that it would still be hard for him to beat Warner in an increasingly blue Virginia, where Democrats seized control of the General Assembly last year.

Warner, 65, was heavily involved in the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election in his role as vice chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee. During the pandemic, he has pushed for more financial support for community-development investment banks and minority-owned businesses. The former technology executive was governor of Virginia from 2002 to 2006, overseeing a major tax overhaul that boosted public education funding.

In 2014, he was nearly upset in his run for a second Senate term by Gillespie, former chairman of the Republican National Committee, ultimately winning by a narrow margin of 0.8 percent. But Gillespie was significantly more well known than Gade, and the political environment was much different then, favoring Republicans, Taylor said.

“Certainly what we saw in the 2019 election, with Virginia flipping both chambers of the legislature, I think that portends the direction Virginia is trending in,” Taylor said. “And I don’t have any reason to believe that would change, especially in a presidential year with higher turnout.”