All right, Republicans. The truth is Mike Ross flat out beat Asa Hutchinson in his first major campaign test on fundraising.

There are lots of numbers reported on the finance reports today, but the main indicator of the campaign strength that I look at is cash on hand minus debt.  This shows how much gas the campaigns have in the tank.  On this one, Ross reported $1,696,125, while Asa reported $649,169 – over a million dollars more in gas.

But there are some positives for Asa.

1. Time is on His Side. (Yes, it is.) Asa”s report shows an opportunity.  With only $726,425 in contributions so far, there should be plenty more funds out there that Hutchinson could raise.  Granted, it is time for Asa to get in high-gear on doing this.  He needs to have a phone strapped to his ear and a call list in front of him continually for the next few months, but the opportunity is there if he takes it.

On top of this, his burn rate is low with only $77,268 spent so far.  His strategy appears to be to spend as little as possible until closer to the election.  If he can manage to continue to do this and step up his fundraising, it could be a gamble that pays off.

2. Easier Primary.  Both Asa and Ross have primary opponents, but Bill Halter appears to be a more difficult challenger than either of Asa”s opponents.  Curtis Coleman”s campaign is the opposite of Asa”s – spending a total of $226,418 while only raising $218,166 with only $76,714 coming in the most recent quarter.  Coleman had to put in $25,000 of his own money to keep his cash from being negative.  I also confirmed with the campaign that campaign manager Shane Knight has left the campaign to pursue other opportunities. With this rapid of the burn rate, it will be difficult for Coleman to stay afloat.

Hutchinson”s other announced primary opponent is State Rep. Debra Hobbs who only announced her candidacy last month.  Since her campaign is just getting off the ground, it is difficult to judge if it will be much of a problem for Asa, but she will definitely have some catching up to do in name recognition.

By contrast, Halter has proven he can fight a tough primary in his near upset of incumbent Sen. Blanche Lincoln in 2010.  He is fresh off an endorsement from the AFL-CIO and has cash on hand of $837,046 albeit with a $640,000 personal loan.  Ross certainly has the advantage, but Halter can make him spend some of that war chest in order to win.  This is a big part of the reason the is pushing hard to get him to drop out and run for Congress against Tim Griffin instead. But if this does not happen, it is highly possible any cash advantage Ross has could be gone by next June.

3. Polling Advantage. Ross is leading in campaign funds, but Asa is still up in the polls.  The Talk Business poll from February showed Asa up six points over Ross statewide. And a recent GOP internal poll shows things may actually be worse.  A poll done by Griffin”s campaign shows Asa up six points in the second district where Democrats traditionally have done well.  Of course, this is an internal poll, but if it holds this is bad news for Ross who will have to spend that money reversing this trend.

All in all, the day belongs to Ross.  His fundraising haul of nearly $2 million is impressive.  There is no way to gloss over this.  But there is still quite a bit of good news for Asa as well.

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Jason Tolbert
Jason Tolbert is the moderator for his opinion blog, The Tolbert Report. He can be reached by e-mail at Jason@TolbertReport.com. Follow him on Twitter: @TolbertReport.