Candidates for the open Montana House have released their first quarter fundraising numbers for 2014. It is important to put these numbers into some broader context instead of merely focusing on who is doing better relative to others in each quarter.
Fortunately, the 2012 House seat was an open seat race--as the seat is for this cycle. That helps us make apples to apples comparisons.
First, let's look at fundraising in the 2012 cycle compared to the 2014 cycle, quarter by quarter to date. Note that we still have yet to hear from one of the House candidates (Driscoll) as to what their April numbers look like:
Click the picture above to zoom in and check out the numbers.
Four points. Look at Zinke and Lewis' fundraising totals relative to the 2012 nominees. Zinke has already raised more money in the cycle YTD than Daines did in 2012. And, more impressively, he's done it much less time. John Lewis, in the three quarters he's been raising money, has more than doubled Kim Gillan's take and raised more than the top two vote getters in the 2012 Democratic Primary, Gillan and Wilmer. Finally, note the steep decline in Stapleton's numbers. It certainly suggests to me he's fading quickly. I felt that the emergence of Ryan Zinke really put a dent in his candidacy--at least, I'm not sure what Stapleton's niche among Republican primary voters is. Finally, Rosendale's campaign is largely self-funded. This presents a double-edged sword. On the one hand, they can concentrate on campaigning instead of raising money. On the other, it is important to connect with the activist-donor base of the party--and if you aren't, that's potentially an issue. Even Stapleton outraised Senator Rosendale in individual contributions for the quarter.
John Lewis, relative to the Democratic House candidates in 2012, is performing much stronger. He's raised almost as much as all 2012 Democratic candidates, and in less time. And, financially, Ryan Zinke is clearly the strongest candidate as evidenced by his performance relative to the Republican nominee in 2012, Steve Daines.
Let's look at the numbers in a slightly different way.
Here I totaled the amounts by party. Note that in 2012, Steve Daines raised more than all the Democratic House candidates combined through the first quarter of the election year--but the difference between the parties was a relatively modest $130,000 or so.
In this cycle while John Lewis has raised about $700,000 (note John Driscoll's numbers aren't available yet, but I'm not expecting much at all from him in terms of contributions), it is only 34 percent the combined total of the Republican candidates! That suggests to me, at least, an enthusiasm gap among Republican and Democratic donors--an enthusiasm gap that seems to favor the Republicans. Midterm elections tend to favor the party opposing the president--and perhaps the fundraising numbers are indicative of that fact. At least, donors tend to be politically sophisticated and certainly understand this.
Republicans will need to spend much of their money fighting for the primary nomination, but conducting an expensive primary election doesn't necessarily mean you will be ill-prepared for the general election. In fact, Marquette Political Science Professor Amber Wichowsky (a fellow graduate of the University of Wisconsin) finds little evidence that a tough primary hurts candidates in general elections. See the NPR story here or her research paper here.
I tell my students this repeatedly: Having the most money does not mean you win an election. You only need enough. But in an open seat contest, having the most helps considerable because it allows one to build much needed name recognition both in the primary and in the general election.