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Haslam and GOP Win Early Money Race for 2010 Gov Race

Sean Evans, Chair and Associate Professor of Political Science
Jul 17, 2009

With the fundraising totals being filed for Tennessee's 2010 gubernatorial race, two things are clear: the GOP has a leg up on the race and Bill Haslam is cementing himself as the man to beat.

According to the Tennessean, Republicans outraised Democrats 3 to 1 or $6.8 million to 1.74 million. Just as important, three separate Republicans outraised the top 2 Democrats combined. While this does not guarantee a Republican governor, the fundraising totals reflect higher candidate quality and greater excitement. Most importantly, it shows a greater confidence that Republicans will win the governor's mansion in 2010. Campaign contributors are strategic individuals who give to those they believe can win and the numbers shows professionals think 2010 will be a GOP year. And while contributors give to individuals for policy and personal reasons, they will not invest large sums in candidates who they doubt can win.

Breaking down the races by party, Knoxville Mayor Bill Haslam established himself as the frontrunner for the GOP nomination raising $3.9 million compared to $1.3 million each for Lt. Governor Ron Ramsey and Congressman Zach Wamp. Haslam's lead is not surprising considering that he is the candidate of the business wing of the TN GOP, especially since his family founded Pilot Oil. Moreover, he is unofficially supported by Senator Lamar Alexander, the godfather of the TN GOP. It also looks like the Nashville business community which has funded Alexander and Bredeson is getting behind Haslam.

Wamp counters that this is not as important as he leads the polls. However, Wamp is misreading the polls. Wamp only leads Haslam 22%-15% with Ron Ramsey taking 7%. With 52% of Republicans undecided, Haslam is in better financial shape to raise his name recognition and get his message out. We should not write Wamp off though. If he continues to raise $1.3 million, or better yet more than $1.3 million every six months, he can remain competitive because campaign money has marginal returns after a point. In addition, both Wamp and Ramsey will attack Haslam as the frontrunner so every dollar for the other indirectly helps both -- as long as they maintain their contributions.

Potentially troubling for Wamp is that $1.3 million is the most that he ever raised for a congressional campaign. If we add the $364,000 left in his congressional campaign committee, that only gives him $1.66 million. He will have to put his financial team in overdrive to play catch up but luckily he has a strong financial base in Chattanooga.

Ramsey is bragging about his financial haul of $1.3 million because he could only raise money after the legislative session ended, which reduced his time to fundraise. However, Ramsey announced an exploratory bid in February which notified potential donors of his intentions and to consider that when making decisions.

For both Wamp and Ramsey, the next reporting cycle is extremely important. The first cycle is the easy money of politics. In the first cycle, candidates can tap their friends and loyal supporters. The next cycle, a candidate's ability to raise funds depends more on his policy positions, campaign hires, grassroots support, and ability to win. Haslam's strong showing will convince many that he is the man to beat which makes it easier to raise money.

Wamp has hired Bob Davis, former TN GOP Chair, to run his campaign and his contacts should help. But knowing that he wanted to run, Wamp should have been using his perch on the House Appropriations Committee to raise money to transfer to his gubernatorial race.

Ramsey is in better position than Wamp and so even though he is trailing in the polls, I would probably place Ramsey as the main challenger at this point. Ramsey has been traveling the state for years to elect Republicans to the State Senate. He knows many of the grassroots and the financiers of the TN GOP. His work has earned their loyalty giving him a wider, more diverse fundraising base which should keep him in the game. Plus, his perch as Lt. Governor increases his ability to raise money from individuals and groups interested in bills going through the legislature. Wamp cannot rely on this as much because PACs focused on federal legislation are less inclined to give to a member who is running for a state office.

Shelby County District Attorney Bill Gibbons raised $417, 765. His best, and really only ,hope is for the three East Tennesseans to split the vote while he wins Shelby County. However, the money raised by the Big Three insures that they can compete in vote rich Shelby County.

Turning to Democrats, the race is shaping up to be a race between West Tennesseans Mike McWherter, Jackson business man and the son of former governor Ned McWherter, and State Senator Roy Herren of Dresden. McWherter outraised Herren $650,30 to 607, 941. However, the poor fundraising of the Democrats has led to speculation that others, like Senator Jim Kyle, may enter the race.

Regardless, the anemic totals of Democrats compared to Republicans shows the long road Democrats face and the less excitement among Democrats for their candidates. As the race continues, McWherter and Herren will continue to battle for the votes of West TN, the historic base of TN Democrats. They key will be who can win in the urban areas. McWherter is probably the favorite as the choice of the TN Democratic Party establishment and name recognition by proxy via his father. This can be seen in his early poll lead of 23%-13% over Herren. Herren will probably have to outraise McWherter to counter that though 34% of undecided Democrats should give Herren, and any other Democrat, hope of winning.

Probably most disappointing among Democratic candidates is Ward Cammack. He is positioning himself as a Bredeson-Obama clone. Like Bredeson, he is a successful businessman with ties to Republicans who can be a problem solver. Like Obama, he is emphasizing environmental politics and outreach to the young and liberal social activitists. Yet, his $189,467 is disappointing considering $112,000 of it comes from donations or loans from himself. If he is not willing to self-finance his campaign, his race is probably over. If he self-finances, early money, like yeast, raises dough and brings in more money.

So while the race for the TN governorship still has a long way to go, finanical totals show that the Republicans are starting the campaign in a strong position while the Democrats are having problems leaving the blocks. Yet, candidates must remember that the race is not a sprint but a marathon so they must continue to raise money, raise name recognition, develop solid policies to solve our problems, build solid organizations to get out the vote, and gain media buzz if they want to continue in their positions or make a move toward the lead.