01 February 2006

7th CD Campaign Finance

The 7th Congressional District in Colorado is an open race in a district more evenly divided between Democrats and Republicans than almost any other in the nation. The last campaign finance reports of 2005 provide a good opportunity to weigh the respective campaign's strength:

Rick O'Donnell (R)
Money Raised: $650,000+ (35% PACs, 65% private individuals)
Cash On Hand: $517,000

Ed Perlmutter (D)
Money Raised: $519,546 (89% from private individuals)
Cash On Hand: $401,061

Peggy Lamm (D)
Money Raised: $244,419 (100% from private individuals)
Cash On Hand: $139,370

Herb Rubenstein (D)
Money Raised: $40,000+ ($24,000 is a loan)
Cash On Hand: $ 939.25

I have to doubt the veracity of the Denver Post report I relied upon above, simply because I have a hard time fathoming the notion that Peggy Lamm has not received any contributions from private individuals. SECOND UPDATE (other changes reflecting this news below are not specifically noted): Indeed, a look at Lamm's report, linked above shows that the Denver Post was 100% wrong. She has gotten no PAC money in the entire campaign, not 100% PAC money as the Post reported.

A few points are worth noting.

First, as we all knew, Herb Rubenstein is not a serious candidate, even if he may be a nice guy in debates and Drinking Liberally functions. He is not even going to make it onto the primary ballot in all likelihood.

Second, more funds were raised on the Democratic side, by Perlmutter and Lamm combined, and the two have more cash on hand, than the Republican side does. Going into the caucus and primary process, the Democrats are divided, but they will come together when the general election arrives. Moreover, usually, the existence of a contested primary keeps some donors who don't want to take sides in an intraparty fight out of the fund raising equation until the primary is over. O'Donnell has no such impediment, and yet still is lackluster in his fund raising (and far more reliant on PAC money). This is likely due in large part to the fact that he has never held elected office before, and thus doesn't have a well honed campaign organization in place on day one. Obviously, he's politically well connected (Vice President Dick Cheney held a fund raiser for him in October of last year and he is the Governor's protege) and he has worked on campaigns before, but that isn't the same as developing the network of personal allegiances from politically active people that you do when you run for public office. Also, it is worth remembering that until mid-January there was a real chance that Mark Paschall, a conservative darling but something of a maverick, might have entered the race and created a primary fight on the Republican side.

Third, Lamm's total fundraising is not great. All politics is local. With or without EMILY's List, a viable candidate has to have genuine grassroots fund raising ability to succeed. Private individual donations are a good proxy for the size of your committed volunteer campaign organization. For better or worse, to run a successful Congressional campaign in 2006 you must be able to inspire many thousands of private individuals to open their pocketbooks and write you checks, and you must as a candidate be willing to spend a great deal of time on the phone and at fundraisers interfacing with "the donor class" of committed members of your party to make that happen. The loyalties that develop when people give you private contributions also often translate into even larger, unreported, gifts of time and create informal buzz about your campaign with politically active people. Furthermore, if you fail to secure enough contributions from private individuals within a reasonable period of time, the supply of PAC money and EMILY's List money will slow to a trickle. Both Lamm and Perlmutter received significant private individual contributions, but Perlmutter's much stronger performance in this area isn't good news for Lamm. If Lamm was the only Democrat in the 7th CD race, every Democrat in the state would flood her with grassroots support almost without her even asking. But, as it stands, Lamm is going to have a tough time turning around the grass roots deficit that she is starting out with in this primary race.

Perlmutter is a lifelong resident of the 7th CD. He built the political organization that he used to win the seat that he held in the State Senate in the District. Lamm didn't live in the 7th CD when it was created (for the record, the law requires only that candidates be resident of Colorado, not the specific Congressional District, so this is a political issue, not a legal one), although I believe she has now found a residence in the 7th CD. While she built a political organization to win her state representative seat and knows politics well, she is to a great extent starting from scratch in the 7th CD this year.

The next big test of political strength in the race for the 7th CD Democratic nomination will come in the caucus process. This is another measure of grassroots support within the Democratic party base, and since neither Perlmutter nor Lamm are running as moderates in the mold of Ken and John Salazar, volunteer support from the base is absolutely crucial to both of them. There is no doubt that Perlmutter will make a respectable showing in this process. He has been on close terms with the long time party muckity mucks who dominate the caucus process for decades. But, a weak showing for Lamm in the caucuses would cripple her candidacy, because it would show that she has a weak campaign organization. Of course, a strong showing for Lamm in the caucuses might give her campaign wings, by showing a base of support that hadn't yet been evident. We'll see what happens in March.

The Dead Governors at Colorado Pols are going to need to look at these reports and tilt the odds much more heavily in Perlmutter's favor than they have so far in the race, in part on the assumption that EMILY's List would bring in lots of money for Lamm in the 4th Quarter. It is early and Perlmutter certainly hasn't cinched it yet. O'Donnell, Perlmutter and Lamm are all viable candidates who have made respectable fundraising showings in 2005 and are actively working to win the 7th Congressional District race. For O'Donnell, this is largely a matter of biding his time and marshalling his resources through August when the general election race takes off. For Perlmutter, the task is largely one of continuing to cultivate his grassroots edge while strengthening his performance in debates, on TV, and in the newspapers where political outsiders judge him as a candidate and his performance thusfar has been lackluster. For Lamm, her task is to pour quickgrow on her grass roots as fast as she possibly can so that she can make a strong showing in the caucuses, while polishing her own public image which also hasn't registered very strongly with political outsiders so far.

UPDATE: If you want to hear a case that Lamm is better off than I suggest above, despite her weak fundraising, I suggest that you read this comment at SoapBlox Colorado which argues that Lamm's strong name recognition (almost double that of Perlmutter in the 7th CD among registered voters) and that Perlmutter's voting record support for the oil and gas industry and developers will hurt him. It also argues that a political "machine" is not as important as it once was (and while the poster doesn't mention it, the strongest case in point for that argument is the election of Mayor Hickenlooper in Denver whose campaign was very media based). There is something to be said for the argument that political machines are obsolete, but, I think it only works if you have enough money in the bank to get on radio and TV and spend it on ads that are actually effective, as Hickenlooper did.

I'm also not sure that the voting record distinctions will matter much. When I looked into the voting records of Democrats in the state legislature a couple of years ago (strictly for free as a favor to help the candidates who might get the money) when asked by an out of state donor for advice on who would be the most progressive candidates for him to support, the conclusion that I came away with was that the Democratic delegation in the state house is remarkably homogeneous when it comes to a liberal-conservative scale despite most having some issue or another where they are less wonderful than others in the delegation. Very few Democrats in the Colorado legislature are full fledged progressive caucus class liberals (most are members of the state DLC, for example), and only a handful are as conservative as members of the blue dog caucus in Washington. Hard core progressives have a great deal of trouble getting elected in Colorado. And, since Colorado is a purple state where both the Republican and Democratic parties are viable, there is little incentive for genuine liberals to run as Republicans or for genuine conservatives to run as Democrats, indeed, if anything, the former is true in many more places than the later in this state.

1 comment:

Andrew Oh-Willeke said...

I'll note that Mr. Rubenstein does not appreciate my characterization of his candidacy, explaining at some length why he believes himself to be viable, and in particular notes that Jesse Ventura won office with similar spending deficits compared to his competitors.

Jesse Ventura, however, came into the race with name recognition and a reputation that won him a great deal of free media, which is an asset that Mr. Rubenstein, not being a celebrity in advance, can't draw upon. Also, if I recall correctly, Ventura ran as an independent, allowing him to avoid the stolid primary/caucus process that ruthlessly removes candidates like Mr. Rubenstein from the running, whether or not this is fair.

You can't buy media for $1,000 in the bank, and free mainstream media will not take you seriously if you don't have a substantial base of donors. It isn't fair. It is simply reality.