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.