Financial Filings Reveal Congressional Candidates’ Strategies

by Jason Tolbert ([email protected]) 110 views 

With only a week to go until the Arkansas primaries, we got a look inside some of the nuts and bolts of the Congressional campaigns by looking at their final FEC filings.

All federal candidates whose names appear on the primary ballot have to file a pre-primary report showing their contributions and expenditures through May 2.  In addition, certain contributions or loan amounts can trigger the requirement to file a 48 hour notice during the final days of the campaign.

These reports once again reveal that Republicans have a huge fundraising advantage overall and in every Congressional district.

David and Goliath

The race for the Second and Third Congressional Districts are set with no primary opponents.  Neither Democratic candidate has raised much of anything.

Herb Rule in the Second District filed his first report showing he raised $6,652 from individuals, got a check for $2,500 from the Democratic Party of Arkansas, and loaned his campaign $9,900.  His loan is larger than the $8,970 of cash he has on hand.  By contrast, Republican opponent Tim Griffin has raised over $1.2 million and has $619,000 cash on hand.

Similarly in the Third District, Democratic challenger Ken Aden has raised over $35,000, but is down to only $2,000 cash on hand.  This is in spite of running for quite a while — literally, he just ran across the district raising money for hunger. Incumbent Republican Steve Womack has raised about $440,000 and has $315,000 cash on hand.

Loans Down the River

The real action for the primaries is in the other two districts.  Three Democratic candidates are battling it out in the First Congressional District, which runs down east Arkansas along the Mississippi River.

Right now, it appears State Rep. Clark Hall is spending the most money with ad buys on television in the Little Rock and Jonesboro markets as well as cable.  His latest filing shows he raised close to a quarter of a million dollars, but he has a pretty high burn rate with $61,000 cash to start the month of May. He also filed a 48 hours disclosure showing he loaned his campaign an additional $50,000 .

Neither of Hall's opponents have raised much. Prosecutor Scott Ellington reported raising $55,000 in his latest report with $12,000 cash on hand.  A Talk Business poll a few weeks ago showed Ellington had a slight advantage coming into the stretch.  He also filed a 48 hour notice that he picked up $5,000 from a union group on Monday. Ellington was endorsed previously by the AFL-CIO.

The third candidate, Gary Latanich, raised $40,000 but shows that he is several thousand of dollars in debt in his latest filing.  He has little chance of winning, but could force a June run-off if the race is close.  My read is that Hall is closing in fast on Ellington's early lead with the money he is spending, but pulling far enough ahead

to avoid a runoff will be a tough but not impossible task.

Meanwhile, incumbent Republican Rick Crawford has raised raised nearly $800,000 and has just under a half million in his war chest waiting for the winner in November.

Battle Down South

It is no surprise that the open Fourth Congressional District drew the most candidates with incumbent Democrat Mike Ross heading off to join former Sen. Lincoln in the lobbyist ranks.  Three candidates filed on each side with the Republicans again holding a sizable fundraising advantage.

Tom Cotton leads the field with well over a million dollars raised and over $400,000 cash-on-hand, most of it available for the primary.  In addition, he has filed several 48 hour notices showing funds are still coming in.  With the amount of money he has, Cotton is spending money everywhere from television ads in several media markets to direct mail.  And the polls are reflecting that this is paying off with 51 percent support and a 18-point lead on his nearest competitor, Beth Anne Rankin.

Rankin has raised almost $400,000, which would be respectable in most years.  However, she is spending it quickly.

Her latest report shows she disbursed over $120,000 to her campaign consultants last month which has drained her cash to only $80,000, most of which cannot be spent on the primary.  It will be tough for her to hold Cotton close enough to force a primary, but with a third candidate, John Cowart, in the race it is possible.  Her 48 hour notice filed last week shows that Murphy Oil chipped in $1,000 to her campaign.  She has an announcement Tuesday in Murphy Oil's backyard in El Dorado to announce a fundraising goal.

The Democratic field shows Hot Springs attorney Q. Byrum Hurst is the frontrunner in money raised with over $150,000 raised and $85,000 cash on hand at the beginning of the month.

His report reveals some interesting strategies. Hurst is the only Democratic candidate with ads on television, but he also spent $20,000 on a “Benchmark Poll” and $5,000 to a leading opposition research firm – Huffman & Rejebian.

Nipping at Hurst's heels according to our latest poll is State Sen. Gene Jeffress who is running a grassroots campaign.  He has only raised about $14,000, but has a few things working in his advantage.

For starters, Hurst has had all sorts of problems creep into his campaign.  In addition, Jeffress' State Senate seat has a Democratic primary and his brother — also a term limited State Senator — has a three-way Democratic primary in his district.  This will help boost turnout in a part of the district where Jeffress is well-known.  It could also help him in a June runoff, which is almost a certainty as the third candidate, the very conservative D.C. Morrison, will draw a healthy enough level of support to keep everyone under 50%.