Will We Have a Tough Three-Way Primary?
Hank Shaw, the Capitol Bureau Chief of the Stockton Record, wrote an article today about Margee Ensign becoming an official candidate. This is something I reported on Sunday, although he didn’t credit me with the scoop. I guess blogs get no love from the Hank Shaw. Regardless, the article does tell us some important information about Ensign’s fundraising. To me, it portends a tough three-way primary.
The bit about Ensign that really adds to the debate is the following:
She had formed an "exploratory committee," but federal law only allows explorers to raise $10,000 before opening an official candidate's account or leaving the race. Ensign said Monday that she has raised almost $25,000.Ensign announced the formation of her exploratory committee on November 17, and we can safely assume that she had significantly less than $10,000 at that time. After all, if she had almost $10,000, why announcing an exploratory committee right before it turns into a candidate committee?
(Well, a candidate might do something like that to milk the media, getting one round of stories with the announcement of an exploratory committee and one stories with the official candidacy announcement. However, Ensign didn’t go out of her way to tell anyone she had moved beyond the exploratory stage, so this is probably not a factor.)
In any event, we probably can safely assume she had some money in the bank from her early supporters, friends, and relatives. This means that she’s raised probably around $20,000 in three weeks. This puts her on track to raise about $30,000 in her first month. It’s a respectable rate of fundraising, but less than Filson was able to pull off in the first two months of his campaign. If she really kicks it into high gear before the FEC filings, however, we might see her surpassing McNerney.
If this happens, or even if she gets close, I think we’re in for a long, hard slog in the primary.
McNerney has a large base of supporters and with the endorsement of the SJC-C Labor Council he definitely has grassroots credibility. However, his fundraising is lagging (it’s always been one of his biggest weaknesses) and he’s probably only raised about $75,000-$80,000. This might change dramatically by the end of the year as PACs respond to his fundraising efforts. I think (or, I guess) we can expect, after the labor council’s endorsement, to see him bring in at least $10,000 and maybe as much as $20,000 in labor PAC money. At minimum he needs to break the $100,000 barrier, but if he does he’ll be able to placate his supporters with his progress, even if he doesn’t win any accolades from the peanut gallery.
Filson on the other hand is probably a fundraising machine. His fundraising is probably impressing a lot of outside observers who either don’t know or don’t care about the grassroots aspect. A lot of folks across the country are only concerned with fundraising, and in this Filson probably won’t disappoint. I could see him raising $25,000 at his big fundraiser tonight in Washington, and the money raised tonight could easily surpass that number. Since it’s hard to know who’s giving him money, it’s hard to guess how much he’s raised. Still, we can safely assume he’ll raise a substantial amount of money this quarter. We might even see him top $300,000. That said, with the expensive Bay Area and Sacramento markets, television is too expensive for him even if he has raised that much money. So I doubt television spots are option for him at this point. This means that his opponents will be able to afford the same methods of getting out their message as Filson. He can outspend them, but he’s not going to be the only voice people hear from in the primary. Especially since primary voters tend to be Democrats who are paying attention to political developments, I could see the grassroots support of Filson’s opponents doing a lot to dampen his ability to monopolize the anti-Pombo discourse.
So we can see why both Filson and McNerney would stay in the race. On the other hand, if Ensign surpasses McNerney she’s obviously going to feel like she has some serious momentum. Even if she raises over $70,000 she’ll be on pace to quickly eclipse McNerney’s fundraising so she’d probably be able to put a great spin on her numbers. Plus, she’ll be able to articulate a strong argument for why she should stay in the race. As Hank Shaw wrote today, “She [Ensign] is the only woman, the only Valley candidate and the only candidate with extensive international experience.” As long as she raises a sufficient amount of money, each of those factors is going to impress a segment of the Democratic primary voters. That said, anything less than $50,000 to 60,000 just won’t cut it.
All of this makes me think it’s likely that we’ll have three credible candidates come January 15, 2006. Without casting aspersions at any particular candidate, I think it’s unlikely that all three will feel comfortable enough in their own candidacies to play nice with their competitors. This makes me think that we should get ready for a bruising primary fight beginning in earnest early next year.