Money & Politics In '96: The Senate
By Dwight L. Morris
After all the results are in, one fact stands out: There will be no political novices among those chosen to join the Senate the world's greatest debate club. All incumbent senators seeking reelection won except for Sen. Larry Pressler of South Dakota. The only open-seat candidates and challengers who, going in, had any real chance of acquiring a six-year Senate term were either career politicians or political operatives who have served their party in some fund-raising or administrative capacity. That fact, more than any other, explains why many of this year's Senate campaigns have been both financially and electorally competitive.
Massachusetts: In just over 10 months of campaigning, Governor William Weld (R-Mass.) raised $7.2 million for his challenge to Democratic Sen. John Kerry much of it from out-of-state donors and virtually all of it from political action committees and individual contributors who gave at least $200. Armed with that formidable treasury, Weld had no difficulty in getting his message out and remained within a few percentage points of Kerry throughout September and October. Obviously, it wasn't enough.
Eschewing PAC donations and heavily targeting small donors, Kerry nevertheless managed to raise $9.6 million from individual donors since January 1, 1991. Despite the high cost of his direct-mail and telemarketing fund-raising efforts, Kerry spent roughly $5 million on broadcast advertising.
North Carolina: Through October 16 (the most recent date for which campaign finance figures are available) former Charlotte, N.C. Mayor Harvey Gantt raised more than $7 million for his second bid to unseat Republican Sen. Jesse Helms. Gantt's fund-raising prowess enabled him to fight Helms to a virtual dead heat in public opinion polls near election day. However, the racial polarization that permeates the state's politics and Helms' willingness to stoke that prejudice with an advertising budget that approaching $5 million proved to be the Democrat's undoing.
Minnesota: Republican Rudy Boschwitz, who lost his Senate seat to Democrat Paul Wellstone in 1990, raised more than $4 million for their rematch, including $842,249 from PACs who hope to have the chance to begin lobbying him again next year. Even without the barrage of negative advertising funded by the National Republican Senatorial Committee, Boschwitz had sufficient resources to make this race extremely interesting. In the end, Wellstone's war chest proved to be more than a match for Boschwitz's.
Idaho: South Dakota Republican Larry Pressler lost his Senate seat on Tuesday but his successor is hardly a fresh face. Through mid-October, Rep. Tim Johnson had raised $2.4 million, including $697,118 from PACs. While those numbers pale when compared to Pressler's total contributions of $4.3 million and his PAC receipts of $1.6 million (the most for any Senate candidate), Johnson had more than sufficient resources to attack Pressler's weaknesses.
New Hampshire: Despite losing his House seat in 1994, Democrat Dick Swett made a serious run for the Senate in New Hampshire. In a state where reformers have succeeded in establishing voluntary spending limits for both House and Senate candidates, Swett's ability to raise $1.3 million gave him more a fighting chance against Republican incumbent Robert C. Smith.
Montana: Republican Lt. Gov. Dennis Rehberg raised just over $1 million for his bid to oust Democratic incumbent Max Baucus. While that figure was roughly $335,000 less than the amount Baucus raised from PACs, Rehberg came close to striking distance in recent weeks.
Iowa: Democrat Tom Harkin rode his $5.4 million campaign treasury to victory. Had he been the victim of an upset, the new senator from Iowa would be one of its current representatives Republican Jim Ross Lightfoot. A veteran of six House campaigns, Lightfoot managed to raise more than $1.9 million for his Senate bid.
The thirteen open-seat races are littered with House incumbents and seasoned politicians with proven fund-raising track records. In New Jersey, the race to succeed retiring Sen. Bill Bradley pitted Republican Rep. Dick Zimmer against Dem. Rep. Robert Torricelli, who together raised more than $13 million. In Illinois, Democratic Rep. Richard Durbin and Republican state senator Al Salvi raised $3.8 million and $3.1 million, respectively, for their contest to succeed retiring Illinois Sen. Paul Simon. Alabama Attorney General Jeff Sessions raised more than $3 million in his successful quest to succeed Howell Heflin. Georgia Republican Guy Millner, who made an unsuccessful bid for Governor in 1994 raised $3 million; his Democratic opponent, former Georgia Secretary of State Max Cleland (the victor in '96), collected donations totaling $2.7 million. Rep. Jack Reed, Democrat from Rhode Island raised $2.3 million, including more than $894,000 from PACs. As of October 16, Governor Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) and Rep. Wayne Allard (R-Colo.) had tapped the Washington PAC community for $820,190 and $817,413, respectively.
There are of course exceptions to this big money pattern, and none of these under-funded challengers stood a chance: On the absurd end of the money spectrum, Democrat Theresa Obermeyer, who challenged Alaska Republican Ted Stevens and spent some of her campaign time in jail, spent less than $5,000. Neither James "Bootie" Hunt (D-Miss.) nor Betty Burks (R-W. VA.) have filed reports with the Federal Election Commission, indicating that they too have spent less than $5,000. Five other challengers four Democrats and one Republican raised less than $750,000.
Among this latter group is Victor Morales, whose miracle victory in the Texas Democratic primary was hailed as a triumph of shoe-leather campaigning over modern, big-money politics. Through October 16, Morales had raised a total of $744,257 and had cash reserves of $363,684. His opponent, Republican incumbent Phil Gramm, had raised $10.6 million, had $1,231,432 in the bank. There were no Texas miracles this week.
This column originally appeared on the PoliticsNow Web site.
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