For the first time in two election cycles, Iowa Republicans are optimistic about their chances of winning races up and down the ballot this November. With a favorable political climate and many voters upset with incumbents, everyone expects Republicans to gain seats this year. The question that remains, however, is how many seats can Republican’s gain? This is especially the case in the Iowa House.
To illustrate just how bad things are for House Democrats, they recently named the event where they give PACs and other organizations an update to on their campaign efforts “Spin the Lobby.” Their straightforwardness should be commended, but branding an event “come listen to us lie to you” probably isn’t the best strategy to use when they need these PACs to help fund their efforts this fall.
If you believe the “conventional wisdom,” then you also believe that Republicans will make gains, but not all the measurable data backs up the notion that Republicans are well positioned going in to the fall campaign. That is particularly true when you examine the lackluster fundraising numbers of the House Republicans.
Earlier this week, a liberal blog pointed out that the Republican challengers in the Democratic-held open seats have not raised much money. While that should be of concern to Republicans across the state, what should really alarm Republicans is that the leadership team in the House trails were they were at the same time two years ago, despite having an incredible political climate.
While fundraising numbers can be used as a good indicator of which candidates are working hard and doing the things necessary to be successful in the fall, local elections are often determined first and foremost by the quality of the candidates that have been recruited. Furthermore, candidates that work their tails off. For example, Kent Sorenson has proven that you don’t necessarily need to spend more than your opponent to win.
Still, campaigns need money to operate, and only looking at what individual candidates raise, especially those who are running in open seats or against an incumbent, can be misleading. Obviously, party leaders will always prefer candidates who can raise money to fund their campaigns, but very few candidates actually raise enough money to be self-sufficient.
This means that the leadership team in both chambers must raise money to help win or protect seats. House Republicans are not hitting on all cylinders in this area. In fact, they are not even raising as much money as their predecessors did in the 2008 cycle, a horrible fundraising cycle for Republicans.
After the 2008 elections, House Republicans made a leadership change when they selected Rep. Kraig Paulsen to their leader instead of Rep. Chris Rants. While Rants could be abrasive at times, he did an outstanding job at making sure House campaigns were adequately funded.
Since becoming the Republican leader in the House, Paulsen has done a good job in the fundraising department individually. For the 2010 cycle, he has raised over $368,000. That is almost $50,000 more than Rants raised at the same time period in the 2008 cycle.
While Paulsen has out raised Rants, there are a couple of things to consider. First, Paulsen has a more favorable political environment in which to raise money. Second, Paulsen also has to pick up a net total of seven seats, while Rants only needed four. To capture the majority, Paulsen will need more resources because he has to win more seats.
The most notable difference in the Republican fundraising effort in the House is the remaining leadership team. At this time in 2008, Rants’ five-person leadership team had raised over $437,000. Paulsen’s seven-person team has raised significantly less, bringing in $364,000.
Another problem for the House Republican effort is that two of the seven-member leadership team are facing stiff competition this fall. Representatives Renee Schulte and Dave Deyoe both occupy seats that are very expensive in which to campaign, and both will have to use every dollar that they raise on their own races instead of helping others. If Schulte and Deyoe’s fundraising totals are subtracted from the leadership team’s total, it means that Paulsen’s team has really only raised $298,000.
The biggest difference between the 2008 and the 2010 fundraising in the House is the amount that the second highest-ranking Republican in the chamber raised. At this time in 2008, Paulsen was second-in-command and raised over $177,000. Paulson added another $150,000 to that before the election cycle was over.
In the current cycle, Rep. Linda Upmeyer, who is the number two Republican in the House, has only raised $104,000. The only other holdover on the leadership team is Rep. Jeff Kaufmann, who is a little bit off of his 2008 pace this year, but has raised the third highest amount of money from the leadership team. Kaufmann has raised nearly $68,000.
In total, the 2008 leadership team for the House Republicans raised $785,000. That means that, at this point in the 2008 election cycle, Rants’ leadership team had raised 56% of the total funds they would raise that year. If Paulsen’s crew raises only what was raised in 2008, then they are only 46% of the way there if you include Schulte’s and Deyoe’s contributions, and they are a disappointing 38% of the way there if Schulet and Deyoe are excluded because they have their own races to worry about.
If House Republicans want to wrestle control away from the Democrats, they need to get serious about fundraising. Legislative campaigns are expensive. The average cost of a rural House seat is $200,000, while an urban house seat can easily cost $400,000 or more.
Their first order of business should be to maintain control of the six seats that are being vacated because of the retirements of Representatives May, Roberts, Rants, Tymeson, Sorenson, and Struyk. House Republicans should be able to hold on to these seats, but it’s not going to be a walk in the park, especially in Struyk and Sorenson’s districts, which naturally favor Democrats.
Their second order of business is winning seven seats that Democrats currently hold. There are some outstanding opportunities for Republicans, but there are also some seats that could prove to be tough to win. Regardless of how friendly any particular seats is to the Republican candidate, these candidates still need the financial resources to build name ID and communicate a message.
There is no doubt that House Republicans will pick up seats this year, but the real question that needs to be asked is whether the Republicans in leadership and those running for office are doing what it takes to win back the majority in the House.
While the political winds now seem to be at our backs, the leadership team in the Iowa House needs to commit to doing whatever it takes to help elect enough candidates to take back the majority.
House Republicans would be well served to heed the advice of Thomas Edison, who said, “Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work.” If they want to take back the House, they have to be willing to work for it, and fundraising is the hardest thing to do in politics.
House Republican Leadership Fundraising Through June
Rants 2008 – $318,940.18 / Paulsen 2010 – $368,934.27
Paulsen 2008 – $177,583.81 / Upmeyer 2010 – $104,886.09
Kaufmann 2008 – $76,407.68 / Kaufmann 2010 – $67,892.82
Struyk 2008 – $60,964.95 / Lukan 2010 – $61,859.00
Roberts 2008 – $42,855.00 / Helland 2010 – $44,570.00
/ Schulte 2010 – $37,334.00
/ Deyoe 2010 – $19,325.00
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