The race for cash has turned into a rout in the final days of the contest for Virginia governor, with front-runner Terry McAuliffe exponentially outraising Ken Cuccinelli II — particularly from companies that have legislative interests in Richmond.
At the same time, the race to succeed Cuccinelli (R) as attorney general has become a magnet for late donations as contributors from both parties scramble to participate in what appears to be the tightest matchup on Tuesday’s ballot.
For the two weeks before the election, Virginia law requires candidates to report all large donations within a day, providing nearly a real-time look at the flow of cash through the political spigots. At the top of the ballot, almost all of the money is flowing in one direction.
On Wednesday, according to the Virginia Public Access Project, McAuliffe (D) reported contributions of $510,000, with more than half that total coming in the form of in-kind donations from the state Democratic Party, the Sierra Club and a pair of labor unions.
For the same day, Cuccinelli reported raising just $12,000 — roughly 1/50th of McAuliffe’s haul. In the race overall, McAuliffe has now raised more than $35 million, nearly double Cuccinelli’s total.
“I cannot recall a gubernatorial race where the difference in fundraising at this late stage was so incredibly lopsided,” said Mark Rozell, a public policy professor at George Mason University. “Combine the latest poll results with the news of the huge fundraising advantage for McAuliffe, and that creates a perception of inevitability that will be extremely hard for Cuccinelli to overcome.”
McAuliffe, a former Democratic National Committee chairman who has raised hundreds of millions of dollars for the Clintons and other Democrats, was expected to beat Cuccinelli on the financial front. But the drumbeat of polls showing McAuliffe leading the race appears to be further eroding the Republican’s ability to draw donations.
McAuliffe’s cash advantage is making a huge difference on the airwaves.
Through Tuesday, according to data from the tracking firm Kantar Media, McAuliffe had outspent Cuccinelli on television ads by better than four to one during the previous week. And as of earlier this week, Cuccinelli was not advertising at all in the expensive Washington media market.
Groups that work with the state government have taken note. In October, a VPAP analysis found that trade associations and companies registered to do business with the General Assembly gave $514,000 to McAuliffe, compared with $100,000 for Cuccinelli.
Republicans and their political allies have not stopped donating money, but many have shifted their focus to the race for attorney general, where state Sen. Mark D. Obenshain (R-Harrisonburg) is in a tight battle with state Sen. Mark R. Herring (D-Loudoun).
“This is the first time, during the first five days of pre-election reporting, when a gubernatorial candidate has been out-raised by one of his or her downticket running mates,” VPAP noted in an update on its Web site Wednesday, pointing out that Cuccinelli had reported donations of $147,000 for that period, compared with $1.3 million reported by Obenshain.
Rozell said the “signal from the contributors is very clear: They have far more confidence in their ability to affect the outcome of the attorney general race than the gubernatorial one. Like any smart investor, they like to put their money where it can have the greatest impact.”
The Republican State Leadership Committee, which is devoted to electing down-ballot statewide candidates across the country, has pumped more than $2.7 million into Obenshain’s campaign.
The Democratic Attorneys General Association has given Herring nearly $700,000.
The attorney general contest has also heated up on the airwaves. CommonSense Virginia PAC, a pro-Republican group, reported this week that it was shifting money it had allocated for anti-McAuliffe ads into a pro-Obenshain radio campaign.
Independence USA PAC — the group founded by New York Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg (I) that advocates for tougher gun laws — has launched a sizable campaign against Obenshain, including commercials that aired in the Washington market during Wednesday night’s World Series game. Planned Parenthood has also aired ads against the Republican.