Earlier this month, I wrote an article about the importance that fundraising will play in the 2014 U.S. Senate race. The article looked at Republican U.S. Senate primary spending in the neighboring states of Nebraska and Missouri in 2012. The conclusion was incontrovertible. It’s going to take a significant amount of money, probably at least $1.5 million to $2 million to wage a competent statewide primary campaign.
Two of the three Republican candidates have disclosed how much they raised in their initial fundraising period, and the results did not blow anyone away. Matt Whitaker raised $110,506, while David Young brought in $152,785. The third candidate, Sam Clovis, has not yet disclosed his fundraising total, but he is not expected to top either Whitaker or Young.
Both Whitaker and Young have tried to spin their fundraising totals to be more impressive by saying that they raised their money in the span of just one month, but Whitaker filed his papers in early May, and both candidates were preparing for the campaign long before that. Even if both candidates could raise what they did in the last period every month from now until the primary next June, both candidates would still be limited in the type of primary campaign they would be able to run. It’s also unlikely that either of them could sustain such a pace.
The most critical expense in a statewide campaign is voter contact. We have all been deluged by TV ads, automated phone calls, mailers, and radio ads in previous campaigns. All of those things cost real money. That is especially the case with TV ads and mail. These components are critically important to any campaign, but especially in a race where the candidates are basically unknown to most voters and the field is crowded.
One TV ad will cost around $15,000 just to produce. In the Cedar Rapids market, you will likely spend around $50 per point to air the ad, while in the Des Moines television market, that price jumps to $75 to $80 a point. Each ad really needs around 1000 points behind it to be seen enough to become effective, which means that one TV ad for a week just in the Cedar Rapids and Des Moines market is going cost you $130,000. Another way to look at it is that Whitaker and Young basically raised enough money to run one TV ad for one week.
That $130,000 is just for broadcast TV in the two largest markets in the state. It doesn’t include the production costs, any cable TV advertising, and it will not be seen the seven other TV markets in the state. If you want to reach conservative voters in northwest Iowa, you will have to add the Sioux City and Sioux Falls markets. If you want to get your message out to voters in the eastern Iowa communities of Clinton, Davenport, and Muscatine, you will have to reach deeper in your pocket and pay for the Quad Cities television market. And we haven’t even talked about Omaha television yet.
Cable TV is much cheaper to buy, but there is a reason why broadcast TV costs so much – more people will see the ad. A decent cable TV buy in the Cedar Rapids market will cost around $25,000 and Des Moines markets will cost another $30,000 a week. As you can see, the numbers begin to add up quickly even with only cable TV ads. Direct mail will deliver a message straight to the voter, but you have to hope that they care enough to open it or read it. Even still, a statewide primary mailer is going to set you back $60,000 to $70,000 per piece. And like TV ads, you need to send multiple pieces of mail to get people’s attention. Otherwise, you are just hoping that people will notice it.
Direct mail and TV ads are expensive no matter how you handle it, but what makes them even trickier is that you have to pay for them in advance. It’s an easy enough concept to pay for what you buy, but that means a campaign has to have the ability to cut sizable checks for these expenses and still continue to pay staff, the office rent, reimburse expenses and so on.
The problem with raising $100,000 or so a month is that the campaign’s ongoing expenses make it difficult, if not impossible, to build a surplus of funds that can be utilized to reach voters in the final stages of the campaign. As I mentioned last week, Bob Vander Plaats raised nearly a million dollars for his 2010 gubernatorial campaign, but he didn’t run his first TV ad until May 24th, 16 days before the primary.
The Vander Plaats campaign also didn’t send much mail. How is that possible in a million dollar campaign? Vander Plaats raised plenty of money to cover the daily ongoing expenses of his campaign, but he never was able to bank money that could be used in the final months of the campaign. Simply put, he needed to raise more money so that he could compete with the Branstad campaign. Sure, there isn’t a Terry Branstad in the U.S. Senate primary, but the fundraising numbers that Whitaker and Young posted are not about to scare anyone from running.
While there isn’t a known commodity like Branstad waiting in the wings, Mark Jacobs, a wealthy businessman has recently formed an exploratory committee and has been traveling the state making inroads with Iowa activists. Should Jacobs be willing to invest some of his own money to help launch his campaign, he will have a leg up on the competition, given that would allow him to build a formidable campaign from the get-go. Jacobs’ potential impact on the race should not be ignored. Since the entire field of candidates is as unknown as he is, his personal wealth becomes a real asset.
Since there has not been an open U.S. Senate seat in Iowa in over 50 years, it’s difficult for people to know what to expect from the field of Republican U.S. Senate candidates. Since there are no limits to how much one can donate to state candidates, it’s useless to use past gubernatorial candidates as a gauge.
Democrat Roxanne Conlin raised $609,481 in her first fundraising period when she challenged Sen. Grassley in 2010. It was an impressive amount, but she was the only legitimate Democrat candidate running, and she’s as connected as any Democrat in the state. Still, her $600,000 first quarter is the type of money that one needs to raise to be a serious candidate. Another well-connected Democrat, Christie Vilsack, raised $423,339.49 in her first fundraising period for her 2012 challenge to Congressman Steve King. Again, it might not be fair to compare Whitaker and Young to either of these Democrats, but this is the type of money that they need to raise.
Perhaps another way to compare the current U.S. Senate candidates is to compare them to some of the more successful congressional fundraisers. Besides Vilsack, Jim Gibbons had the best initial fundraising period for a congressional candidate in his 2010 race for Congress. Gibbons raised $207,310 in his first period as a candidate, which is significantly more that either Whitaker or Young raised. For his 2006 congressional bid, Jeff Lamberti raised $163,394. Democrat Bruce Braley and Bill Dix raised $128,507 and $117,162 respectively in their first reporting period for their congressional runs in 2006. Ben Lange raised $122,793 in his first period as a candidate for his 2012 race for congress.
The above are all good to exceptional dollar amounts raised by congressional candidates, but running for the U.S. Senate is an entirely different ball game. In essence, a U.S. Senate candidate need to be raising four times what a congressional candidate raises because they are campaigning the entire state, not just a fraction of it.
Raising $110,00 or $150,000 isn’t much of a start, especially when you consider that Braley has already amassed a war chest of $2 million. For decades, it has seemed as though Republican candidates always had an advantage when it came to fundraising. Now it seems like the advantage has swung to the Democrats. Fundraising is the most difficult task of a campaign, and while there is more to a campaign than just raising money, it’s critically important.
The 2014 Republican U.S. Senate field is reminiscent of the 2010 gubernatorial field before Branstad entered the race. There are quality individuals seeking the nomination, but it seems like none of them have invested the time to build an extensive network that will aid them in the task of fundraising. Sure, Senator Harkin’s retirement caught many by surprise, but it seems like nobody in the Republican Party was even thinking about laying the groundwork for a future statewide run.
Hopefully someone will emerge as a credible candidate soon.
blog comments powered by Disqus