How Long Can Buck and Romanoff Keep the Lights On?

When fundraising numbers for Colorado’s U.S. Senate candidates were all announced earlier this week, it continued a rabid conversation about what individual reporting numbers mean for each campaign. Less discussed, but no less important, is whether or not each campaign is raising enough money just to keep the lights on.

As we’ve said before, fundraising reports are normally a reliable indicator of potential electoral success, because most large donors (people that give at least $500 to a candidate) write checks to the candidate that they believe is most likely to win.

But the other reason that fundraising is so important is for very fundamental purposes: You need a lot of money to both support a statewide campaign and to get your mug on television. It’s no secret that the candidate who does best on TV is often the candidate who ends up winning the election, so an effective campaign has to be able to pay for its day-to-day operations while also saving as much as possible (70-80% is a general rule of thumb) for television.

Obviously, a U.S. Senate race is a costly affair. In 2008, Democrat Mark Udall outspent Republican Bob Schaffer $11.7 million to $7.4 million. Now that the fundraising reports for the 2010 batch of Senate candidates are available, we thought it would make sense to look at just how much money they are going to need just to fund their campaign. The answers tell us a lot about which candidates are in a position to win, and which are just treading water right now.

In 2008, neither Udall nor Schaffer had a primary to worry about, yet both spent significant amounts of money in the first three months of the year on general campaign operations (staff, travel, office space, phones, copies, etc.) Here’s how those numbers stack up:

2008 U.S. Senate Race

Campaign Expenditures for Q1 (Jan. – March)

Mark Udall: $824,828

Bob Schaffer: $361,400

The 2004 election is a little more difficult to compare. Because incumbent Sen. Ben “Nighthorse” Campbell didn’t announce his retirement until March 2004, there isn’t any Q1 data from that year to compare. But take a look at the expenditures from the first report on the Republican side, which featured an expensive primary between Schaffer and Pete Coors:

2004 U.S. Senate Race (GOP Primary)

Campaign Expenditures for Q2 (April – June)

Pete Coors: $813,541

Bob Schaffer: $457,296

Now, back to 2010. Of the current field of candidates, only Democratic Sen. Michael Bennet and Republican Jane Norton have cracked the $1 million mark in fundraising, and only those two candidates are currently raising enough money each quarter to allow them to both cover expenses and save for television (we don’t include Tom Wiens because he’s only had one quarter of ahem, fundraising). Here are the current “cash on hand” numbers for each candidate:

Michael Bennet (D): $3,482,581

Jane Norton (R): $595,563

Tom Wiens (R): $540,132

Andrew Romanoff (D): $480,000

Ken Buck (R): $276,000

Recent history shows that it costs at least $400,000 per quarter at this point to keep a strong campaign operation running. History also shows that if you don’t have a strong television buy, you can’t win; TV is still the most effective way to reach the large number of voters you need to win either a primary or a general election.

Given those two realities, it’s hard to see how Romanoff and Buck will be able to win their respective party’s nominations if they don’t significantly increase their campaign coffers, either through fundraising or self-funding. Unfortunately for both candidates, they have likely exhausted the low-hanging fundraising fruit at this point; most candidates have their strongest fundraising quarters early in their candidacies because the first people they call for money are the most likely to donate.

Both candidates have already brought in relatively highly-paid staff (Walt Klein for Buck and Celinda Lake, Joe Trippi, etc. for Romanoff), and both candidates have to staff up heavily now in order to do well at the caucuses. They are both going to have to spend a lot of money in the next few months, but neither is raising enough cash to do more than just cover those bills. And in Buck’s case, he’s not even raising enough to do that.

Look, we’re not saying that Romanoff and Buck won’t or can’t win in August — a lot can change in the next few months. But as it stands right now, the numbers don’t lie. When you combine their fundraising pace with both the money they need to spend on their campaign and the need to squirrel away funds for TV, there’s just no way that each campaign can stay in the black financially.

If Romanoff and Wiens can’t maintain a balance for heavy television advertising, then there is absolutely no way they can win in August. Buck is getting some help from outside interest groups, and perhaps Romanoff will get some outside help as well, but you can’t rely on those groups for your only televised outreach to voters; those ads should be the icing on the cake, not the cake itself.

This fundraising quarter could, and should, be the most critical period for both campaigns. If Romanoff and Buck don’t significantly increase their warchests, there’s not going to be a happy ending for this story. Buck and Romanoff will probably stay in the race until the bitter end, but at this pace, they won’t be doing much when the end comes.

21 Community Comments, Facebook Comments

  1. Barron X says:

    .

    If Romanoff drops out, Bennet goes into the General Election without ever having faced, let alone won, an election.  

    As it is, Romanoff is either lousy at opposition research, or he thinks being civil and polite is more important than winning.  He wants people to still like him after the election is over, people like those at Pols here who support Bennet for no apparent reason other than Obama selected him.  

    Bennet has potentially fatal vulnerabilities that Wiens is sure to exploit in the General.  You guys want Mike to win so bad that you won’t consider that he may be unelectable, even for dogcatcher.  

    As an outsider with no stake in the outcome of the Dem primary, I suggest that, even if you want Mike as your candidate, help Andy bring a hard-knuckled challenge in August so that voters aren’t hearing about Michael’s weaknesses for the first time after he is ensconced as your candidate.

    This is exactly what folks mean when they say that a Primary makes a candidate stronger.  What’s unstated is that, if he survives a Primary, he comes out stronger.  Right now, Andy is pulling punches, and that is setting Bennet up to be KO’ed in November.  

    .

    • RedGreenRedGreen says:

      Joe Trippi and Pat Caddell aren’t known for pulling their punches. This primary is going to be nasty, don’t you worry.

    • redstateblues says:

      You wordsmith, you.

    • Middle of the Road says:

      would require a separate diary to counter. If you haven’t seen enough of us telling you why we are backing Bennet, if you haven’t seen AR’s campaign going ugly and nasty and firing their own staff left and right, then maybe you haven’t been paying enough attention, Barron. Not my fault you can’t keep up.

    • Colorado PolsColorado Pols says:

      Whether or not primaries are helpful is not the point of this post. We looked at the numbers to see what it costs, historically, to operate a Senate campaign in Colorado. Based on those numbers, and the candidates’ fundraising thus far, we don’t see how Romanoff OR Buck can really be significant challengers in August.

      Both Buck and Romanoff will likely stay in the race until the end. But at this pace, the end will be a quiet whimper.

      • TheDeminator says:

        I can speak to the Democratic side because it is a world I am in.

        Buck does have TV running for him so maybe he can spend more on lights and less on being on TV.

        A statewide for senate will cost between 11 and 16 million on each side… not my numbers but the DSCC’s staff’s number. Andrew would have to raise 5 to 6 million in the next two quarters to be able to fight of a republican.  Period.

        When will the democrats learn you need money to win state or congressional district wide? We cannot continue to run races where we cannot outraise or at least come close to the republican.  We should not even be running folks and putting the money they are wasting on the other races.

        Andrew’s Finance team, finance committee and supporters do not have the money to run TV for him with a 527 like Buck has.  Andrew is sinking… slowly sinking.  Look at Miles he won caucus and did not fundraise enough money to do anything but that.  Ken S. Destroyed him in the primary.  

        If Andrew somehow wins the Caucus he will lose the primary and force Bennet to spend money he will need for the General on putting out Andrew.  I dislike Bennet’s as our senator but he beats Norton.  

        • Danny the Red (hair)Danny the Red (hair) says:

          No heart, just cold hard calculation

          I think I love you.

        • RedGreenRedGreen says:

          He does, and it was a very large buy. But the ads don’t seem to have made much difference in either his name ID or his strength in today’s Rasmussen poll (conducted Feb. 2).

          Don’t forget too that Bennet (and Udall) got lots of third-party advertising over the last four months “thanking” them for standing up for this or that.

          • ScottLewis says:

            Just as they pulled the silly ad, the ad buy doesn’t mean they actually have to run ads. WHEN Buck drops out – because he needs more than 40K per Q to pay for other things – those folks will pull the reserved time. Just like Tiger Woods’ sponsors did after his sex scandal.

            Oh and the fact is that his negatives will only increase as everyone across the state gets to know him while Norton is a known quantity. She’s only going to go up.

            And she has shown she can raise the necessary funds to be competitive and then WIN!

        • peacemonger says:

          I gave you a lot of shit last year but I give you credit for being a political finance genius.

    • peacemonger says:

      And Romanoff is being too nice? Where did you wander in from?

  2. silverandblue says:

    Since when did ColoradoPols become shills for the money whores at the DSCC and WH?

    Romanoff will keep the lights on long enough to beat Bennet and Norton.

    http://www.rasmussenreports.co

    Bennet has $2.3M to spend on the primary and is burning through cash at a rate that will see his campaign spend over $1M in the 1stQ without any paid media.

    The “kiss” from Obama in February will be the beginning of the end for the boardroom bandit.

  3. Ranger says:

    Today’s Rasmussen poll has Buck +4 over Bennet; please explain obvious disparity with Coloradopols.

    • Colorado PolsColorado Pols says:

      Today is Feb. 5. The primary is on August 10. If the election were held tomorrow, that would be great for Buck. But the election is not tomorrow, so this poll means nothing.

      We’re not saying Buck wouldn’t beat Bennet if all things were equal (as they are in polling). But all things are most certainly NOT equal here.

      If Buck cannot raise enough money to both fund his campaign operation AND go on TV with a big ad buy, then he’ll never even make it to Bennet. Buck doesn’t have enough money to win a PRIMARY, so who cares how he matches up against Bennet? He’ll never make it to the general election. We might as well talk about how Buck matches up in a race for President, because it’s equally irrelevant.

      This really isn’t complicated. Breathe slowly and try to follow along. No money = no TV = no winning.

      When Norton and Wiens go up on TV in July with pretty pictures and smiling faces, voters won’t remember Buck anymore. Remember – and we say this over and over – primaries are decided by the same bunch of generally uninformed voters who cast ballots in November. Primaries are not decided by Party activists. The only way to get the votes of those uninformed voters is to go on TV.

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