Saturday, April 11, 2009

What's Their Number?

The 1st Quarter
First Fundraising Numbers Due Next Week

The first real barometer of Missouri's 2010 U.S. Senate race will come this week in the color of green.
Congressman Roy Blunt and Secretary of State Robin Carnahan will submit their first quarter campaign finance reports to the Federal Election Commission (FEC) and immediately lay down the first tangible benchmark in a campaign still in its infancy.

The amount of dollars raised during the first three months of the year will be poured over by political observers from Missouri to Washington, and furiously spun by backers of both candidates.

"There's no 'quote' good number. What I'm looking for is the disparity between them, if one raises substantially more than the other," said Jennifer Duffy, who has studied U.S. Senate races for the Washington-based Cook Political Report for the past twenty years.

The Blunt and Carnahan campaigns declined to release their fundraising tallies early to The Notebook for this article.
Still, the guessing game leading up to next Wednesday's filing is one of the guiltiest pleasures of the insatiable political class. And while there's no foolproof formula, there are several ways to gauge the success of Carnahan and Blunt's first quarter efforts.
Measure their totals against other candidates from "toss-up" states. In Florida, Democratic Congressman Kendrick Meek, who's in a contested primary, announced a $1.5 million dollar quarter. Illinois State Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias, a Democrat, took in $1.1 million in a mere 28 days. In Colorado, Democrat Michael Bennett is riding a Rocky Mountain High, setting a state record: $1.37 million in 90 days. Not as many Republican candidates have come forward with their totals. But incumbent Kentucky Sen. Jim Bunning didn't mince words. He's called his fundraising quarter "lousy."

Compare their totals to previous Missouri Senate cycles. In his leap from the House to the Senate, Jim Talent raised $1.78 million from July through December 2001. New incumbent Sen. Jean Carnahan took in $2.29 million during the first six months of 2001, after announcing she'd pursue a full term in January. (That's when you only had to report every six months as opposed to every three.) But the cycles are increasingly getting more expensive. Fast-forward to 2005, for Talent's re-election effort, and he raised $1.3 million during the first three months of the off-year.

Look at how many of their donors have maxed out. Some argue the first quarter of any candidate's fundraising is the easiest. Known as the "low-hanging fruit," these are the loyal donors that the candidate has cultivated a relationship with and can count on. But how many have thrown in the entire $4800 maximum donation ($2400 for the primary/$2400 for the general) in one shot? Another factor: How much of the total money can be used for the general, as opposed to the primary? Carnahan's not likely to have a serious primary, but Blunt may.

Examine how much money came from in-state. If it's more than 70 percent, the pol will likely brag about it. Raising dough at home means you can tout actual "voters" as well as dollars. If the majority are contributions under $200 or so (not likely this early), you can even gloat about that all-important "grass-roots" support. And make sure to watch for the 20001 zip code. That's D.C. money. Then there's New York money, which the Blunt folks will be eyeing in Carnahan's report. "While Roy has been visiting one-on-one with voters, Robin Carnahan has been raising money from pro-abortion groups in New York City," said Blunt spokesperson Rich Chrismer. But Duffy doesn't think Planned Parenthood will have a significant impact on Carnahan's first quarter report, "because they haven't yet done mailings, the big push."

Decipher their burn rate. Not only how much they are raising, but how much they've spent this early, whether it be on staffing, travel or consultant fees. That entourage trailing them around in public, and perusing poll data in private, doesn't usually come cheap. The cash on hand number is key.

Then there's the sour economy. The Wall Street Journal recently reported that political giving has suffered amid the economic slump, with contributions from company political action committees falling six percent to begin this year compared with the same period in 2007. "I still think the first quarter in an election, donors are just strained. Nobody's exactly anxious to write a check. Everybody's going to have a down quarter," said Duffy.

Despite officially announcing her candidacy on February 3rd, Carnahan had been pondering a Senate run for months. Think, ducks in a row. Blunt, on the other hand, wasn't likely even thinking about joining the world's greatest deliberative body until Sen. Kit Bond's dramatic announcement of his retirement in early January.

"I haven't seen the numbers," Blunt said in a quick phone conversation Thursday, when asked about his quarter. "We started from a flat start, but I think it went pretty well," he added.

"We are pleased about where we are in the first six weeks covered in this quarter," added spokesperson Chrismer, stressing that this initial period was not a true full quarter.

The Congressman will be able to carry over cash.

According to his last filing with the FEC, Blunt has $336,408 left over from his Congressional campaign. He'll be able to transfer that to his Senate run. Not being a federal officeholder, Carnahan will have to start from scratch.

Carnahan spokesman Tony Wyche declined to comment on his candidate's fundraising performance, only saying that staffers were still tallying their numbers on Friday.

The money raised during February and March is what observers will hone in on. And this is where the parlor game begins.

Based on the performances of other U.S. Senate candidates across the country, previous election cycles and conversations with numerous political professionals and longtime observers over the past week, $1 million dollars raised seems to be a magic number.

"Below $500,000 is bad. Over a million is huge," said one political operative.

One school of thought is that Carnahan's name and family legacy coupled with a new Democratic president's popularity should give her the early financial edge. Another is that Blunt's nationwide connections makes him a semi-incumbent who can tap into rabid anti-Obama sentiment running through the veins of the GOP.

Of course, since Blunt is likely to face the prospect of a primary from former state Treasurer Sarah Steelman, your political preference likely determines the school of thought you fall under.

"Roy should do at least $1.5 million. Under a million is bad," said one political observer skeptical of Blunt's candidacy.

"Anything around $500,000 will be respectable," said a Blunt ally. "No one will have a good quarter because of the economy. Second quarter is when things will heat up," this observer added.

"The only thing that really matters is if Carnahan does markedly better than Blunt," Duffy said.

The expectations have been set.

Drum roll please.


Busplunge said...

"Anything around $500,000 will be respectable," said a Blunt ally.

Isn't this called 'lowering expectations',which is also part of the game

IF Blunt comes in at more than $500,000 (as expected) look for his campaign to talk about exceeding expectations.

And then there's this guy:"Roy should do at least $1.5 million. Under a million is bad," said one political observer skeptical of Blunt's candidacy.

Sunny Boy said...

I donated to McCains camp and the GOP has been relentless in telling me how "the party has changed and they're listening" what a load of bull! The GOP is to scared to change and give us electable candidates-thus allowing a bunch of whacko liberals to get elected. Carnahan isn't as bad as some in her party, but the balance of power is too lopsided in the Dem's favor. No matter what party is in power- the lack of dissenting opinions puts us all in danger of repeating the abuses of the Clinton & Bush years. More divisiveness, more gridlock, more rage-less progress. Absolute power gives birth to absolute ignorance and corruption. Will we never learn???