Tuesday, December 06, 2005

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.


Blogger Matt said...

P.S. The article also has the following quote, "Rival Filson already has begun receiving checks from the DCCC and lawmakers such as House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of San Francisco...."

I'm going to call up Mr. Shaw and see if he's talking about the $4,000 in earmarks the DCCC gave to Filson. As I understand it (and as always, when it comes to campaign finance law I might be wrong) the DCCC passed on money to Filson much in the way ActBlue passes on money to candidates. They have not, as I understand it, actually disbursed money from their PAC to Filson. They have, however, been a conduit for the money. If I'm wrong and the DCCC has actually given their own money to Filson, this represents a new development. (I do know that Pelosi has given money to Filson, but as yet has not endorsed him).

Actually, while I have him on the phone I'm going to ask Shaw why he refers to McNerney as a "mathematician." McNerney has a PhD is mathematics, but as I understand it he professionally works in the applied sciences. This makes him much more of an engineer than a mathematician. Since McNerney's going to make a big deal out of his work in the clean energy field, it's a distinction that matters.

9:14 AM, December 06, 2005  
Anonymous Nicholas said...

hey, even though i support McNerney I must say I am jazzed for all three candidates at this point. The district is going to have three unique choices..This is what democracy is all about...Despite what the DCCC wants people to think.


11:25 AM, December 06, 2005  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

An interesting graf from the Shaw article:

"Ensign will keep her job as dean of UOP's School of International Studies until March, when she'll file her last set of papers to challenge Pombo. She will remain a professor and will take a leave of absence for the campaign."

Can Ensign really run a vigorous campaign (i.e. fundraising) while working full time at UOP until March? Maybe I'm missing something, but that seems to be a red flag. Along those lines, are Filson, McNerney and Thomas campaigning or working full-time like Ensign?

1:26 PM, December 06, 2005  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Matt - you should be careful about not mentioning Steve Thomas in your posts. Even Hank Shaw mentions Thomas.

Although he doesn't appear to be a serious candidate yet, by not mentioning Thomas you effectively commit the very same sin as the mainstream media -- marginalizing candidates without giving them an opportunity to establish themselves as legit participants in the race.

Think Dennis Kucinich, Carol Moseley-Braun an Al Sharpton. I didn't support any of them but they were all legit participants in the presidential campaign and should thus be at least mentioned, if only in passing.

1:35 PM, December 06, 2005  
Blogger Matt said...

Here's what I know:

Filson's still working but he has said his flying schedule gives him time to campaign.

McNerney's still working somewhat, but I'm not sure if it's full time.

Thomas is still working and I bet he's working full time.

That said, McNerney has significant amounts of volunteer help and Filson at least has Lisa Tucker to keep things under control.

I agree that it would be hard for Ensign to work full time and campaign like she needs to. It's one of a number of red flags.

1:37 PM, December 06, 2005  
Blogger Matt said...


I disagree. I've given Thomas much more time and space than any of the MSM publications following the race. I have his website linked on the sidebar and I do mention him from time to time. In fact, so far as I can tell, I'm the only one following the race that's published any sort of interview (or I suppose interview summary).

But even so, I don't feel any requirement to mention him.

I hardly think I'm committing a sin when I ignore him. The truth is that he hasn't demonstrated that he's a credible candidate in any way.

If he does something that merits attention I'll mention it. I believe I'm probably more inclined to mention something like this than any MSM publication, but maybe I'm just being arrogant. But the point is that I will fairly evaluate his actions and decide whether or not they are meritorious enough to mention regardless of how credible a candidate he seems to be.

What I won't do is throw in references to him when he is playing a patently insignificant role to the subject under discussion.

Furthermore, there's both a huge difference between my responsibility as a blogger and the responsibility of a reporter on one hand, and the marginalized candidates we're talking about on the other hand.

For my part, I simply refuse to play the part of a disinterested journalist. I do not claim to be disinterested, and I all that I claim to present here is my interpretation of what matters. Since I do not think his role is germane to the above topic, I don't feel any obligation to mention him.

Also, to paint Thomas as an Al Sharpton-like figure is absurd. Al Sharpton has some sort of constituency that supports him. Even if his constituency was not large enough for him to play a decisive role in the race, he was still representing hundreds of thousands of supporters. Right now, it looks like Thomas is basically representing himself. He is certainly entitled to run, but I do not feel obligated to mention each and every person who files papers with the FEC. You're entitled to fault me for it, but I'm pretty unrepentant about my stance.

2:01 PM, December 06, 2005  

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