The Washington Post is reporting today that GOP candidates in close congressional races have a big advantage in campaign funds over the Democrats that are trying to send them packing. While this isn’t exactly a surprising revelation – in fact, the opposite would be real page one news – it’s at least one bright note for the party’s beleaguered standard-bearers in a year that’s probably not going to go their way.
Does it matter? Personally, I don’t think so. I’d argue – as I did a couple of weeks ago – that in this year’s political climate, it’s not the spending difference between the candidates that so important. Rather, it’s the amount of money raised by the challenger.
Challengers don’t have to outraise incumbents to beat them. And unless you’re looking at a millionaire pumping in their own money, it almost never happens. What challengers do need is a “presence.” They need enough money for the kind of TV and radio airtime that signals to voters there’s a serious alternative to the incumbent.
In most races – even this year – challengers don’t have that kind of money. If you’re outspent on the order of ten-to-one – something that happens regularly in more than half the congressional districts in the country – you’re not going to win. That’s not enough “presence” even for voters to know your name, let alone to think of you as a potential winner.
But if you can come within two-to-one of the incumbent’s spending, or if you can raise significant money – and a million dollars certainly qualifies as “significant” – then you’re in the game. Not every year, mind you, but certainly this year if you’re running as a Democrat.
There are three certainties in life: death, taxes, and a surplus of campaign cash by Republicans. That’s been the case year in and year out – even in years when the Democrats won.
So if you’re a Republican candidate this year, you’re entitled to some measure of comfort in the balance sheets of the close campaigns – it’s certainly better to have more money than less. But don’t get too comfortable. It’s not your budget that’s going to tip the election this year, it’s the other guy’s.