Republican Challengers in Senate Primaries Still Trail in Fundraising

Sen. Lamar Alexander speaks to members of the media at the Capitol October 11, 2013 on Capitol Hill.
National Journal
Jordain Carney
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Jordain Carney
Oct. 22, 2013, 3:31 p.m.

Re­pub­lic­an Sen­ate chal­lengers in a trio of South­ern states are hop­ing to ride an anti-Wash­ing­ton wave in­to Con­gress. They’ve wasted no time tar­get­ing in­cum­bents on the gov­ern­ment shut­down and the deal that aver­ted a debt de­fault, but the strategy has provided mixed res­ults in what are already up­hill primary fights.

Ten­ness­ee state Rep. Joe Carr used his first ad to tar­get the vote by Sen. Lamar Al­ex­an­der, R-Tenn., in sup­port of the fisc­al deal, and he con­tends that Al­ex­an­der has “lost touch” with the folks back home. But the biggest boost for Carr could come in fun­drais­ing — a needed lift after rais­ing $52,000 in the last quarter. “We’ve already raised more money in the first two or three weeks in Oc­to­ber than we have in the en­tire third quarter,” he said.

In Ken­tucky, the fisc­al fight has also in­creased dona­tions and the num­ber of vo­lun­teers for busi­ness­man Matt Bev­in’s cam­paign, a spokes­per­son said, adding that the cam­paign ex­pects the fourth-quarter haul to top the ap­prox­im­ately $220,000 brought in between Ju­ly and Septem­ber. Bev­in re­cently won the back­ing of the Sen­ate Con­ser­vat­ives Fund, which blas­ted Sen­ate Minor­ity Lead­er Mitch Mc­Con­nell’s “lib­er­al re­cord” — even though Na­tion­al Journ­al ranked Mc­Con­nell as the 15th-most-con­ser­vat­ive sen­at­or based on his 2012 votes.

But Re­pub­lic­an strategists cast doubt on how ef­fect­ively the fisc­al fight could be made in­to a ral­ly­ing point for tea-party chal­lengers. Ted Jack­son, a con­sult­ant from Ken­tucky, said voters can dis­tin­guish between op­pos­ing the Af­ford­able Care Act and re­cog­niz­ing that a deal that in­cluded changes to the ACA wasn’t a real­ist­ic op­tion. He also ques­tioned Bev­in’s lack of a built-in base and his low name re­cog­ni­tion.

“[There is] just not enough of those voters to vote Mitch out,” Jack­son said, re­fer­ring to tea-party voters. “There’s not 50 people in Ken­tucky that could pick Matt Bev­in out of a lineup.”

Ten­ness­ee strategist Tom In­gram said that “by the end of shut­down de­bacle it was pretty clear to every­body that Lamar Al­ex­an­der dis­likes the Af­ford­able Care Act as much as every­body else, but that wasn’t the is­sue.”

In South Car­o­lina, the fisc­al fight hasn’t res­ul­ted in any quan­ti­fi­able changes in sup­port so far for busi­ness­man Richard Cash or state Sen. Lee Bright, who are hop­ing to chal­lenge Re­pub­lic­an Sen. Lind­sey Gra­ham. Cash and Bright stressed that Gra­ham’s sup­port for the stop­gap spend­ing bill ad­ded to their nar­rat­ive that he votes with Demo­crats and against voters in the state.

They, along with busi­ness­wo­man Nancy Mace, are hop­ing to block Gra­ham from get­ting more than 50 per­cent of the primary vote, thereby for­cing him in­to a run­off. “I don’t see that hap­pen­ing,” said Ruth Sher­lock, a Re­pub­lic­an con­sult­ant in South Car­o­lina. So far, all three chal­lengers have a ser­i­ous prob­lem: weak fun­drais­ing.

Carr said he isn’t con­cerned about the fun­drais­ing gap — Al­ex­an­der brought in more than 10 times what he did dur­ing the third quarter. Cash also said that primary op­pon­ents just need to raise enough “to get their mes­sage out,” push­ing back on the no­tion that he must come close to match­ing Gra­ham.

But J. War­ren Tomp­kins, a long­time Re­pub­lic­an strategist in South Car­o­lina, said that “un­less there is a sig­ni­fic­ant shift in their fun­drais­ing abil­it­ies, they are go­ing to have a dif­fi­cult time.”

And with the fourth quarter be­ing a dif­fi­cult time to raise money be­cause of the hol­i­days, it might not be clear how much fin­an­cial trac­tion these can­did­ates are gain­ing un­til first-quarter re­ports are filed in April.

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