Rod Blum is the clear frontrunner in the Republican primary in the First Congressional District, but you wouldn’t know it by looking at his fundraising report. Blum’s campaign reported that it had raised $77,710.09 in the first quarter of 2014, but when you subtract the $20,120.78 of expenses he reported as in-kind contributions to his campaign, his campaign actually raised just $57,590 in the quarter.
That number is especially disappointing since Blum’s chief opponent in the primary, State Representative Walt Rogers, ended his campaign in February. That should have created an opportunity for Blum to expand his donor base across the district and even attract some statewide donor support once he became the clear favorite to be the Republican nominee in the First Congressional District.
Even though Blum is making his second attempt at running for Congress, his fundraising report suggests that he still has not figured out how to raise money for a congressional campaign. A significant portion of the money that Blum raised is from his hometown of Dubuque or nearby communities. It’s natural for a candidate to raise a significant amount of money from their home turf, but Blum struggles to raise money elsewhere.
A large portion of Blum’s first quarter donors is also made up of people who have already contributed to his campaign before. Again, this is common, but for Blum to fund a general election campaign, he is going to needs to constantly attract new donors to his campaign, which means that he must find ways to reach out and solicit funds from individuals who he may not know personally. Blum is an impressive candidate with a great resume. People should donate to him because he is the likely Republican nominee or because they simply like his background and message.
When a congressional candidate struggles to raise six figure numbers in a quarter, it sends the message that they are not really trying when it comes to fundraising. What’s odd about Blum is that he’s an excellent campaigner. He’s impressive on the stump, and based on my fundraising experience, I have no doubt that he would perform well in a fundraising meeting. The problem may be that Blum simply doesn’t know what or how he should go about raising money for his campaign.
Blum’s anemic fundraising numbers create two different problems for his campaign. The first problem impacts him if he is successful at winning the Republican nomination in June. A lot of people believe that national money flows into races once a contested primary is over. That is simply not true.
National groups like the National Republican Congressional Committee are constantly monitoring all the congressional campaigns across the country. It is the candidate’s responsibility to get their attention. In essence, each congressional race is like stock, and the NRCC is a major investor. The investor (NRCC) looks at a number of factors. They look at the district make up, the quality of the Democrat and Republican candidates, polling data, and of course fundraising numbers.
When a group like the NRCC sees that Blum only raised $57,000 in the last quarter, they are not going to be impressed or interested in the race. The NRCC’s Young Guns program lists Blum as “on the radar,” meaning they are keeping an eye on him. It’s good that they are watching the race, especially since he is running in an open seat, but Blum needs to put up fundraising numbers to get their attention. Without a formidable primary opponent, Blum should have performed better this quarter.
The second problem Blum faces will impact his primary against Cedar Rapids businessman Steve Rathje. Blum’s poor fundraising performance means that he has failed to close the door on Rathje. Like Blum, Rathje has run for office before, and thus does have an existing network. Rathje also hails from the largest county in the district, which in 2010, cast almost four times as many votes in the Republican primary than Blum’s home county of Dubuque did.
Ironically, Blum finds himself in the same position in which Ben Lange, the 2012 Republican nominee in the First Congressional District, found himself. Like Blum, Lange was a clear favorite but did little to put the primary away. On primary day, Lange won, but by a much narrower margin than people expected.
Rathje is campaigning around the district, but his first quarter fundraising numbers are even worse than Blum’s. Rathje raised just $22,689.07 from January through March. His campaign has $33,718.50 cash on hand, which isn’t much, but enough to run some radio ads across the district. It is also possible that Rathje could put some of his own money into the race if he feels there is an opportunity to upset Blum.
Make no mistake, the Republican primary in Iowa’s First District is Blum’s to lose, but winning the nomination isn’t the prize. Blum’s fundraising issues are problematic for the general election. Not only does he need to raise a lot of money to impress the powers that be in Washington D.C., but he also needs to increase his fundraising to be able to wage a top-notch general election campaign.
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