Campaign intelligence: Money flows to Republican primaries

by
The logo of Mississippi Conservatives - an outline of the state in red
Mississippi Conservatives, a super PAC, has spent nearly $1.7 million supporting Sen. Thad Cochran; Image credit: Mississippi Conservatives

Tuesday brings with it a wave of primary elections as voters head to the polls in eight states: Alabama, California, Iowa, Mississippi, Montana, New Jersey, New Mexico and South Dakota.

As has been the case all year, most of the outside money spent on primaries has gone toward competitive Republican contests. The slugfest in Mississippi between veteran Sen. Thad Cochran and challenger Chris McDaniel has drawn bucket loads from Washington-based conservative groups hoping to oust the incumbent.

Meanwhile, a handful of Democratic battles in California prove that just because a race has not attracted millions in super PAC dollars does not mean that the seat comes cheap. The campaigns of liberal challengers in districts near Los Angeles and San Francisco have netted seven figures as Silicon Valley lawyer Ro Khanna seeks to unseat seven-term Democratic congressman Mike Honda from the solidly blue district.

Top five primary races by outside spending 

  1. Mississippi Senate, $8,047,868
  2. Iowa Senate, $1,840,651
  3. California 7th Congressional District, $513,828
  4. California 31st Congressional District, $471,409
  5. Alabama 1st Congressional District, $377,519

Mississippi Senate

In Mississippi’s U.S. Senate election, Cochran’s effort to win a seventh term may have received an unwitting boost from McDaniel supporter Clayton Kelly, who photographed the senator’s wife in a nursing home where she is being treated for dementia. Kelly’s subsequent arrest is the subject of an attack ad from the Cochran campaign linking the conservative blogger to McDaniel.

The nursing home incident is the latest twist in a roller coaster primary that has attracted more than $8 million from independent groups, about twice as much as the $4 million spent by the campaigns. Anti-establishment heavy hitters have been the loudest voices in the room, with frequent buyers like Club for Growth  ($2,505,029), the nonprofit and super PAC arms of former Sen. Jim DeMint’s Senate Conservatives Fund ($1,367,941), the Tea Party Patriots Citizens Fund ($584,080) and other groups attempting to unseat Cochran.

Prominent members of the Republican party’s pro-business wing have boosted the six-term senator to the tune of more than $2.8 million. The bulk of this spending came from Mississippi Conservatives, a super PAC funded by wealthy donors from Mississippi and other states. As Breitbart News reported in May, Mississippi Conservatives was the target of a complaint from the Tea Party Patriots Citizens Fund for a supposedly unsecured $250,000 loan the group received from a Jackson, Miss. bank.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce spent $500,000 supporting Cochran, in addition to a $100,000 contribution to Mississippi Conservatives.

A May 27 poll by the Republican-leaning Harper Polling showed the race as neck and neck, as did a Democratic poll released four days later.

Iowa Senate

Joni Ernst, of um, pork-cutting fame, appears to be one of the rare candidates in Republican primaries that has united both the Tea Party and mainstream branches of the GOP. At least, that’s how it looks on paper.

The state senator and Iraq war veteran is ahead in the polls and has the support of both the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the Senate Conservatives Fund.

But some aren’t too optimistic about her chances against Democratic Rep. Bruce Braley in the general election.

Ike Brannon, a Washington strategist, wrote in a Daily Caller op-ed that while the Senate race may be winnable for the right Republican, Ernst’s outside support ultimately indicates that the “DC establishment … apparently figures they might as well appear inclusive by supporting the woman in a race they perceive as unwinnable.”

In the primary, Ernst faces wealthy businessman Mark Jacobs, the former executive of the Houston-based Reliant Energy whose campaign has been largely self-funded, and the Citizens United-endorsed conservative radio host Sam Clovis. While Citizens United has made some less-minute efforts on Clovis’ behalf the bulk of the outside spending — more than $1 million — has favored Ernst, who has not shied away from the limelight.

California congressional races

Veteran congressman Henry Waxman, D-Calif., will not be seeking re-election for the first time in 40 years and Democratic candidates have pounced on the chance to represent the 33rd District, which covers parts of Los Angeles and Beverly Hills.

Marianne Williamson, author of books on self help and spirituality, is running as an Independent in a crowded field. While the rookie candidate has been fundraising up a storm, Williamson has offered some self-help to her own campaign, contributing $392,824 to her rookie congressional race.

California is one of the few states that implement a blanket or “jungle” primary: The initial election is open to voters — and candidates — of any party. The top two finishers, regardless of party, face off in November.

The open primary system also means that freshman Rep. Ami Bera, D, of the Seventh District east of Sacramento, will essentially be running in a general election on Tuesday.

Former Rep. Doug Ose, a Republican, is challenging Bera for the seat, which covers much of the same territory Ose represented while in office from 1999 to 2005.

Bera’s campaign has raised $2.28 million — benefiting from contributions from contributions from national PACs and the leadership committees of fellow congressmen — and still boasted just under $1.6 million on hand, in addition to $320,000 of loans from the candidate himself as of May 14.

Ose has raised a formidable $1,597,921 but had just $214,334 on hand as of the most recent campaign disclosure.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce has spent $300,000 supporting Bera, while House Majority PAC, a Democratic super PAC, has spent just under $200,000 running attack ads against the Republican.