Money-raising campaigns off and running

U.S. Rep. Chip Cravaack
U.S. Rep. Chip Cravaack is pictured at the Duluth International Airport on Thurs., Jan 5, 2012. Ever since Cravaack defeated longtime 8th District DFL Congressman Jim Oberstar in 2010, Democrats have plotted their comeback in what is considered a Democratic-leaning area. Cravaack could have a fight ahead of him for the November election.
MPR Photo/Dan Kraker

Campaign cash is not a sure predictor of who will win an election, but candidates would rather have more to spend than less.

Over the last few days, members of Congress and some of the people who hope to challenge them in November have released reports about how much money they raised in the first quarter of the year.

Ever since Republican Chip Cravaack defeated longtime 8th District DFL Congressman Jim Oberstar in 2010, Democrats have plotted their comeback in what is considered a Democratic-leaning area.

Judging from the numbers, Cravaack has a fight ahead of him.

Cravaack pulled in $246,000.

The three Democrats competing to run against Cravaack collectively raised $436,000 in the first three months of this year. DFL challenger Tarryl Clark's campaign raised the most — $320,000, outstripping Cravaack.

Clark's fundraising total reflects her grassroots focus, campaign manager Joe Fox said.

"Tarryl's was extraordinarily good for a challenger in what is frankly not a wealthy congressional district," Fox said.

A closer look at the contributors who gave more than $200 to Clark's campaign suggests she is getting most of her money from outside Minnesota through Democratic fundraising websites and a large email list that Clark gathered while running against Michele Bachmann in 2010.

"You cannot compete without money, but money doesn't do anything for you if you don't also have the underlying support of voters and individuals..."

Those large donations amounted to more than $54,000 from 202 Minnesota residents for Clark's campaign. A total of 3,300 Minnesotans have contributed to Clark, her campaign points out .

Democrats point out that Cravaack's family has moved to New Hampshire while he continues to represent Minnesota. They say he is out of touch with the district. However, Cravaack appears to have a stronger fundraising base from within the state.

His campaign pulled in about $102,000 from 317 Minnesota residents who gave more than $200. The Federal Election Commission doesn't require campaigns to itemize donations below $200.

Cravaack campaign manager Ben Golnik is pleased with the Republican incumbent's numbers so far.

"The fact that he's been able to raise a significant amount of money from a large base of donors from all parts of the 8th District — I think that's a very good sign," Golnik said.

However, University of Minnesota political science professor Kathryn Pearson said the fact that his challengers are pulling in so much money is not a good sign for Cravaack.

"Vulnerable incumbents actually should be raising the most money because they can go to donors, partisans and say, 'Hey look, I need money,' " Pearson said. "Incumbents typically are better poised to raise money than challengers."

In the neighboring 6th District, Michele Bachmann's re-election campaign is underway after her failed bid for the GOP presidential nomination.

Bachmann's raised $550,000 last quarter — more than any other House incumbent in Minnesota but considerably less than what she had raised during the same period in her 2010 campaign.

Bachmann's campaign manager, Chase Kroll, was not available for an interview but in a statement last week wrote that figure reflects less than two months of fundraising.

Over the weekend, 6th District Democrats endorsed businessman Jim Graves to take on Bachmann.

Graves has loaned his campaign $100,000, and spokesman Donald McFarland said Graves will have plenty of money on hand for the general election.

"At the end of the day, there's no doubt that Rep. Bachmann has the ability to raise a lot of money. We're going to also raise a lot of money," McFarland said.

When Clark ran against Bachmann in 2010, it was the most expensive House race in the country. This year, observers can expect to see numerous liberal donors from around the country giving heavily to Graves.

Still, Graves faces an uphill battle, Pearson said.

"He's running against an incumbent in a solidly Republican district," Pearson said.

For the big statewide race on this year's ballot, DFL Sen. Amy Klobuchar raised $1 million in the first quarter for her re-election and has $5.2 million in the bank.

Two of her three GOP rivals have released their fundraising. Former Army National Guard Capt. Pete Hegseth brought in $160,000 while Dan Severson collected a little more than $50,000.

Election analysis newsletter The Cook Political Report rates Klobuchar's seat as safely Democratic, which raises the question, what is Klobuchar likely to do with all that money? That kind of war chest could really help Klobuchar's career on Capitol Hill, Pearson said.

"I would not be surprised if Sen. Klobuchar helps other candidates who then in turn, if they win, are particularly supportive of her should she run for the Senate leadership," Pearson said.

But of course, money isn't everything.

Cravaack was heavily outspent by Oberstar in 2010, and there are plenty of stories of well-financed candidates who crashed and burned on the campaign trail.

Fox, Clark's campaign manager, said there is one rule of politics that still applies equally to both sides of the aisle.

"You cannot compete without money, but money doesn't do anything for you if you don't also have the underlying support of voters and individuals and also spend your money well," Fox said.

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