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Both major parties break records in fundraising on 2010 gubernatorial races

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November 1, 2010

By Eileen McGuire-Mahony


They can accept unlimited donations and their target races are at an all-time frenzied high. So why wouldn't DGA and RGA be 2010 electoral all-stars?

The Democratic and Republican Governors' Association have been on a spree for most of the year, landing seven figure donations and rolling out more than 200 ads, albeit none with free style rapping worthy of their acronyms.[1][2]

America is less than 24 hours away from electing 37 governors – an all time high for one year. Nine of the ten biggest blocks of electoral votes are up for grabs. For its part, the electorate is angry at every vestige of entrenched political power, meaning the DGA and RGA, stocked as they are with Beltway heavy-hitters and career politicos, are doing everything in their power to appeal to weary voters.


ODemocratic Governors Association' 'Never Surrender' ad.

Some pollsters allow that this year has been difficult to get a handle on. The venerable Cook Political Report, a nonpartisan race-tracker that litters its website with such accolades as, “perhaps the best nonpartisan tracker of Congressional races” and “the Picasso of election analysis”, still has 11 races left as toss-ups at this late date. Included in that political no-man's land are five of the biggest states in the Union, including Pennsylvania and Ohio, both deemed pivotal for the 2010 Presidential contest. Ballotpedia is predicting pick-ups for both party and a final landscape that will see 30 states under Republican leadership.

Rasmussen Reports, which changes races individually as new polls come out, still wouldn't put a finger on the scale for nine races as of November 1st. They have, though, moved Pennsylvania to the right as a likely GOP win. With such prizes at stake, both Associations have committed to immense blocks of advertising time and fielded marvelously complex ground operations to cover the territory in play.

From July 1st through the end of September, the Democratic Governors took in $10 million, ending the period with $13 million in the bank. Affiliated state-based groups reported another $3 million as October began. Comparatively, the DGA spent $14 over the span of the entire election cycle in the 2006 races, when 36 seats were up.[3] This followed up a record-shattering start to 2010, with the first half of the year sending $17.1 million flooding into DGA coffers.[4]

The group, chaired by Delaware Governor Jack Markell, who will not have to defend his seat until 2012, has put that cash to good use. Once lagging in states considered to be blue territory, they went into the Election weekend having closed gaps in Ohio and Georgia, and having retaken leads in California, Oregon, and Minnesota. They also appear to be holding their own against fierce Republican challenges in Hawaii and Massachusetts and keeping just ahead of the GOP in Vermont and Connecticut.

Markell's strategy is to distance the candidates he is responsible for from Congress, with it's crashing approval ratings. Speaking at Washington's National Press Club on October 5th, he told listeners, “Conventional wisdom suggests that the fate of Democrats at the state level is inextricably linked to the fate of Democrats in Congress, and that this election will be a referendum on our party.  That conventional wisdom is wrong.  This election will not be a referendum on Democrats, but a choice between Democrats and the alternative.”[5] On the morning of the last day of the election cycle, it looks like his tactic will save a few party strongholds but be ineffective to really blunt the Republican momentum, something that can be traced to the twin conquests represented by last year's gubernatorial wins in New Jersey and Virginia.

For one thing, the Democrats'a $27 million pales against the RGA. If RGA Chair Haley Barbour, who is in the middle of his term as Mississippi's commander in chief, is looking to send a signal that he's Presidential material in 2012, $60 million and counting should do it. His group closed out September with $31.5 million cash on hand. In the three months beginning July 1, 2010, the RGA brought in $31 million, a sum exceeding everything they raised for the 2006 races.

That they are competitive in such bastions of the left as Hawaii and Oregon owes something to the advertising and voter outreach they've been able to sustain. No serious race-tracker expects the GOP won't walk away with the plurality of governorships; the most sanguine estimates for the final tally have Republicans controlling an absolute majority, including a dozen pick-ups. Additionally, at least half a dozen states could, however unlikely, surprise everyone and go red.


Republican Governors Association' 'Remember November' ad.

Underlying this intense push is the explicit strategy of the Republican Party. Namely, they don't think the can retake the Senate or the Presidency without having the governorships in hand. Creating receptive environments in key states and leaving behind a friendly face in states where a retiring governor may have White House dreams are on their mind.

Supporting their hopefuls, the RGA has spent over $1 million in 17 states, over $3 million in 9 more, and more than $5 million each in six grand-prize states.[6] This doesn't include $6.5 million in four battlegrounds – Florida, Illinois, Ohio, and Pennsylvania – for last minute television blitzes and get-out-the-vote drives. Polling suggest all are competitive and the GOP should pick up at least three, with a solid chance at sweeping them.[7]

Gov. Barbour also has an enviable ability to close deals on truly massive sums. In a move that brought on immediate howls from lefty blogs, NewsCorp wrote a $1 million check to the RGA on June 24th. Barbour duplicated the feat when billionaire David Koch also gave seven figures to see Republican governors take office.[8] Such headline grabbing boosts brought out Democratic donors as well. A DGA appeal to grassroots donors to equal NewsCorp's $1 million delivered and contributed to their record 3rd quarter.[9]

The gubernatorial races are a mirror image of the Congressional battlefield, which accounts for all 435 House seats and a third of the Senate. Politico compiled fundraising by each party's Congressional Committees and added in spending by allied groups and sympathetic PACs to report that, in the chase for a Capitol Hill office space, Democrats and "left-leaning" groups are outspending the GOP and it's "right-wing" supporters $936 million to $846 million through late October.[10]

The figure includes respective internal fundraising for the Democrats and the Republicans of $856 million and $677 million. On top of that, outside groups have already spent $80 million and $169 million. Activists on both sides have vowed to pump tens of millions more into Congressional races to make clutch plays. Back at the state level, measuring only what official committees have brought in, the combined $87 million spent on 37 governors races is still a relative bargain next to Congressional races, where the two party's dedicated committees have raised a combined $1.533 billion. Given that there are 435 House seats and 39 Senate posts, or 12 times the number of gubernatorial races, party backing for a candidate averages out to $3.2 million to go to Washington and $2.34 million for a governorship.

Compared to candidates' own fundraising and the surfeit of millionaires willing to spend down their own bank accounts in the pursuit of office, the 2010 midterms are erasing all previous records. Early guesses at the total bill are ballparking it at $4 billion. For some voters, that may be a small price to pay for shutting off the stream of ads.

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