Thursday, January 27, 2011

Steve Daines' FEC Filing: What do the first quarter numbers REALLY mean?

Last week, Dan Person at the Bozeman Chronicle reported that Steve Daines, the Republican challenger to incumbent Senator Jon Tester, raised nearly a quarter of a million dollars in the two months since he filed his statement of candidacy with the FEC.

That’s a pretty substantial accomplishment at first blush. By comparison, Tester had raised only $60,000 at the time of his first reporting period after he announced his challenge to then-incumbent Senator Burns in 2005. Even by the second reporting period, he had only $300,000 or so raised. It should be further noted that Senator Tester reported $500,000 cash-on-hand at the close of the October 2010 quarterly filing (and may have much more now—his report is not yet available at the FEC's website). In 2006, Tester spent more than $5 million to oust Burns. Frankly, I’d expect a larger cash on-hand number at this stage of the game. Let’s see what happens when the January numbers come out. If those numbers do not substantially improve, it might (and I suggest this oh-so-tentatively) that Tester may be thinking about retiring. And if that happens, the dynamics in this race change dramatically.

Daines’ fundraising numbers sure sound impressive. But to put the amount into context, Daines’ filing needs to be carefully reviewed—and I will do this once it becomes publicly available. Here’s what I’ll be looking at closely:

Political Action Committees: Has Daines received any money from national PACs? PACs contribute strategically and generally receive access to internal polls. If a number of PACs have contributed early to Daines, it suggests that he’s polling well and could put up a substantial challenge to Tester.

Donors Contributing the Maximum Amount: How many donors have maxed out? If many of the donors have given the legal maximum this early, it suggests two things. First, these folks are strongly committed to Daines. Secondly, however, it also says that Daines will need to expand his donor base dramatically in the upcoming quarter to improve upon the first quarter numbers. This, of course, is a difficult task.

Out-of-state Money: I look at where contributions are coming from for two reasons. First, if a substantial amount of money is coming from within Montana, that suggests a good deal of political support within the state. However, to raise the substantial sums of money necessary to win a Senate election, candidates often have to draw upon donations from outside the state. Does Daines appear to have the makings of a national donor network at this early stage? If so, it’s also a good sign. Now, to be fair, national money usually comes into a race LATER—when it becomes clearer which Senate races are targeted by the national committees, and once PACs have signaled which races they are putting their resources into.

Who in Montana Has Given Daines Money: If Steve Daines has raised most of his money from Bozeman, family connections, and business associates from RightNow Technologies but has not yet begun to expand beyond those connections, it might suggest that’s he’s tapped all the easy money early. This simply means that it will be harder to sustain his momentum UNLESS those connections have not yet maxed out OR his campaign begins to catch on among GOP activists throughout the state.

In summary, I was impressed initially with the Daines fundraising numbers—but will reserve final judgment until I’ve looked at the January filing more closely. Surely, if I worked for Jon Tester, I would take note and start working the phones.

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