In his latest financial disclosure this past January, Governor Chet Culver raised just over $1 million for his reelection campaign. The year before, Culver raised a similar amount, and he currently has just under $1.5 million in his campaign bank account.
Those in the traditional media have made a big deal out of the Governor’s fundraising ability. This past Sunday, Charlotte Eby began her article about potential Republican candidates for governor with the following sentence, “Challenging an incumbent governor who’s led Iowa through a historic natural disaster and who is a prolific campaign fundraiser might seem like a daunting task.”
Prolific fundraiser? Really?
An incumbent Governor should easily raise $1 million per year, and that is also the number that Republican challengers should aim for by the end of this year. To put Culver’s $1 million raised in perspective, one just needs to look at the financial disclosures for January 2006. Former Congressman Jim Nussle raised nearly $2.5 million in 2005 for his gubernatorial campaign. Additionally, if you combined the dollars Bob Vander Plaats raised after the 2004 elections and all of his 2005 receipts, he raised $808,665.96. While $1 million is a lot of money, Culver’s fundraising numbers are not prolific. They are typical of an incumbent.
With more potential Republican candidates “testing the waters,” one of the early things that they will be judged by is their ability to raise money for their campaigns. Neither Culver nor his Republican challengers will have to disclose how much they raise until the end of the year, but one of the most important tasks for those seriously looking to challenge Culver is raising money.
Below is the list of potential candidates and their ability to raise the necessary funds to run a competitive gubernatorial campaign. The potential candidates are ranked one through seven, with those ranked #1 being the most likely to be able to raise $1 million in 2009.
7. Rod Roberts/Jerry Behn: In no is any disrespect to Rep. Roberts and Sen. Behn implied by lumping them together, but the only difference between them in terms of fundraising is that one is from the House and the other is in the Senate. Both are well-respected legislators who have served in the legislature for some time. It is not impossible for legislators to use their position to run for higher office, but if Roberts and Behn where using their positions in the legislature as a stepping stone to higher office, they would have been smart to try to raise substantial amounts of money to help elect Republicans to serve with them, thereby establishing a state-wide fundraising network. That was a common practice a few years ago when legislators like Chuck Larson and Bill Dix traveled the state raising money for the general election effort.
6. Paul McKinley: Having just been elevated to his leadership position this past January, McKinley has not been able to use his leadership position to help build relationships with donors from across the state. That simple fact will make it difficult to find the funding for a gubernatorial campaign. His position as the Minority Leader in the Senate does make it possible to get meetings so that he can give his pitch to top donors in the state, but fundraising is a relationship business, and you don’t find many donors who write $25,000 checks after a first date.
5. Bill Northey: Northey was able to win a statewide race in what turned out to be an awful year for Iowa Republicans. Since then, he has done a tremendous job as Iowa’s Secretary of Agriculture and has also been constantly fundraising, even in off years. Northey is to be commended for being forward-thinking, and while he has obvious backers in the Iowa Farm Bureau if he does run for Governor, he only has a handful of contributors who have given him more than a $5,000 contribution. That size of contribution is nothing to sneeze at, especially in a campaign for a Secretary of Ag race, but running for Governor requires large, generous donations, and you need a number of them to run a serious campaign.
4. Mike Whalen: Whalen the owner of the Iowa Machine Shed Restaurants and other restaurants and hotels, and he is well known in eastern and central Iowa. In his 2006 campaign for Congress, Whalen raised over $1.5 million and loaned his campaign another $490,000.
Whalen won a contested, three-way primary over Brian Kennedy and Bill Dix. While Whalen was able to raise almost $900,000 from individuals throughout his campaign for Congress, he struggled to raise money in the primary as Bill Dix proved to be an aggressive fundraiser. Whalen opted to loan his campaign large sums of money instead of trying to go toe to toe with Dix. It is likely that a gubernatorial primary would bring a similar situation.
Candidates who are perceived as being wealthy like Whalen sometimes struggle in the fundraising department because some donors (large and small) don’t think they really need their contribution. Fair or unfair, it can sometimes be more difficult for a candidate with some personal wealth to sit across the table and ask someone else for a $25,000 check.
Whalen is a unique candidate because he does a lot of business in his home area of the Quad Cities, but also has a number of businesses in Polk County. Whalen was instrumental in bringing the new Bass Pro Shops that are currently being built in Altoona.
3. Jeff Lamberti: Lamberti proved to be a solid fundraiser in his 2006 campaign for Congress. Lamberti raised just over $1.7 million in that campaign, and over a million of that was from individuals, while only $577,000 was from PACs and other political entities.
While Lamberti’s fundraising effort for his congressional campaign was impressive, he also didn’t have to deal with a Republican primary. That will not be the case in the gubernatorial race. When someone gets the support of a major donor, that donor is usually off the market. This means fundraising is often a race to sign donors up and get them to invest in your campaign.
Lamberti’s natural advantage is that he is from Polk County, which is usually considered to be the epicenter of fundraising in the state. It would probably be difficult to find a better donor file in central Iowa than Lamberti’s, but he lacks a statewide donor network that Rants and Vander Plaats possess.
1B. Christopher Rants: As Speaker of the Iowa House and then House Minority Leader, nobody has traveled the state to raise money for himself and Republican candidates more than Rants has in the past 4-5 years. It is sometimes difficult to determine everything that a legislative leader does in terms of fundraising because they also encourage donors to give to targeted candidates, or in Rants’ case he also raised over $1 million for his 527 group, the Iowa Leadership Council.
While Vander Plaats tops the list because of his previous fundraising ability due to some loyal backers of his efforts in past years, Rants shares the top spot with him because of the relationships he has developed over the years across the state.
Rants also possesses another attribute that is difficult to find in a political candidate – pure ambition. Candidates generally find it difficult to ask anybody for a contribution to their campaign, let alone ask somebody for $20,000 or $50,000. Rants has the ability to look people in the eye and ask for that type of money, and he also is motivated because his political career is on the line. It doesn’t matter who you are, if you are running for Governor, it’s an all or nothing proposition. Candidate who understand that and use it for motivation tend to overachieve.
1A. Bob Vander Plaats: Many people underestimate Vander Plaats in his ability to put together a credible campaign. With the current field lacking a candidate of Jim Nussle’s stature, Vander Plaats might be one of the more formidable candidates in the race. In his last campaign for governor, Vander Plaats was able to raise over $800,000 from Election Day 2005 through the end of December 2005.
Vander Plaats’ fundraising strength comes from his home area in northwest Iowa. Of the $808,665.96 Vander Plaats raised in late 2004 and all of 2005, $658,500 came from 27 couples. Those 27 couple donated 81% of what Vander Plaats was able to raise over that time period. Their average contribution to Vander Plaats’ campaign was $29,959.59 per couple.
While some may take issue that such a small group of people funded his previous campaign, having a group of individuals who contribute $15,000, $25,000, or more to your campaign is not a luxury – it’s a requirement. Vander Plaats has been able to put that type of group together. If he is able to repeat his fundraising performance of late 2004 and 2005, his campaign will be well positioned heading into the final five months before the June primary.
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