Petition legislative candidates continue to struggle in money race

In the closing weeks of the fall state legislative campaigns, the data from October campaign finance reports filed by candidates in twenty-five legislative races with petition candidates shows that most major-party legislative candidates will enter the final weeks in a much better financial position than most petition candidates.

Data from the updates showed major party candidates continued to hold serious financial leads over most petition candidates. Specifically, major-party candidates led petition candidates by six-to-one in cash on hand and had raised nearly double the cash raised by petition candidates since the mid-July reports were filed by all candidates.

Out of all fifty-nine candidates seeking these seats (thirty-three of them petition candidates), just five – only one petition candidate – raised more than twenty thousand dollars since the July reports and only ten candidates – all either Republicans or Democrats - reported more than twenty thousand dollars in cash-on-hand.

In fact, the overall picture has changed very little from when we looked at the results from the mid-summer campaign finance reports (pts. 1, 2, 3).

Here’s an overview of the fundraising and cash-on-hand picture for these candidates:

  • Major party candidates – Total: $794,357.77, Average per candidate: $30,552.22
  • Petition candidates – Total $174,951.71 , Average per candidate: $5,301.57

  • Major party candidates – Total: $372,994.57, Average per candidate: $14,345.95
  • Petition candidates – Total: $223,313.33, Average per candidate: $6,707.07

While all major party candidates advantages over petition candidates in cash-on-hand balances, petition candidates in just three races led their major-party opponents in fundraising for the filing period: 
  • Rex Rice in Senate District 2 ($15,462.00 to $12,116.16 for Larry Martin)
  • Tommie Reece in Senate District 6 ($18,195.00 to $5,275.00 for Mike Fair)
  • Katrina Shealy in Senate District 23 ($21,775.00 to $8,950.00 for Jake Knotts)

However, the Republican opponents of Rice and Shealy retained sizable advantages in cash-on-hand and those we talked with explained that many candidates with healthy campaign account balance were opting to use their cash-on-hand advantages over their petition challengers to free them from spending time raising money for their campaigns and allow them to spend more of their time campaigning.

The only incumbent who has continued to show problems in outpacing their petition opponent in the money race is Senator Mike Fair from Greenville County. In addition to Reece leading Fair in fundraising for the period by a three-to-one margin, Fair barely led Reece in cash-on-hand ($13,759.84 to $12,589.55), suggesting the potential for a close race. While Fair spent a considerable sum of money fending off a primary challenge, other major-party candidates faced primary challenges and were able to rebuild their campaign warchests, so we're not sure how to explain this.

It’s also important to note that many candidates – major party and petition alike - showed fundraising totals far lower than what would have been seen before the current economic downturn began. However, the major party candidates seem to have weathered the economic storm better.

The cash-on-hand balances will be crucial for candidates in allowing them to fully fund their campaign game plans, as well as cover any unexpected surprises or exploit opportunities that may arise in the fluid campaign environment that many candidates face in the closing weeks of their campaigns. While a cash-on-hand balance of thirty thousand dollars would be adequate in most cases, the five thousand dollar amount which is the average amount on-hand for petition candidates will likely present major challenges.

Historically, the last few weeks is the point where most candidates with sizable cash advantages are able to break out and take leads in their races. As such, we expect these advantages will play a key role in allowing many of the major party candidates to walk to easy victories next month.

NOTE: Fundraising data was not available for GOP Reps. Bill Sandifer and B.R. Skelton at the time this story was written as their reports had not been posted.

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