Political Paddock: McConnell maintains cash advantage despite high burn rate

Herald-Leader Political WriterApril 14, 2014 

U.S. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell's campaign is burning through the cash in a Senate race that promises to shatter all of Kentucky's fundraising records.

Fortunately for McConnell, he's also raking it in.

Kentucky's senior senator announced Monday that he raised $2.4 million in the first quarter of 2014, making for a total haul of $22.3 million for the election cycle. But with two opponents working overtime to expedite his retirement, McConnell has spent a ton of money — more than half of his total — and six weeks remain before the May 20 primary.

McConnell has spent almost $12 million, leaving him with $10.4 million in cash.

The McConnell campaign said Monday that the high spending rate had nothing and everything to do with the senator's primary campaign against GOP challenger Matt Bevin.

Because the senator has a primary challenge from a candidate who has the backing of several outside fundraising groups, he has spent heavily building a campaign infrastructure to ensure a May victory.

The decision was made long ago that no attack from Bevin or one of the groups backing him would go unanswered. That takes money. And of course the senator's campaign spent some dough unceremoniously welcoming Bevin and likely Democratic nominee Alison Lundergan Grimes into the race.

There also has been a costly effort, given the senator's low approval numbers, to reintroduce McConnell to voters. A statewide ad that ran earlier this year featuring Paducah cancer survivor Robert Pierce, for example, cost $840,000.

Team Mitch argued that spending on the primary and the general election are not mutually exclusive, saying that the campaign ground game has been up and running for more than six weeks. Without a primary, that operation wouldn't start until Labor Day.

With a primary, the McConnell campaign says, it has made the same infrastructure investments it would need to make for the General Election. They've just made them earlier.

"The primary election has given us the opportunity to lay infrastructure early that can be tested and perfected before the general election," said Josh Holmes, a senior adviser to McConnell. "Those who criticize front-loading these investments are usually the same ones who think you win modern-day campaigns by spending all your money running TV and radio ads in the last month of the election."

Holmes said the criticism of McConnell's spending rate is similar to what President Barack Obama's ultimately successful campaign faced in 2012 from Democrats who publicly and privately fretted that the campaign had spent about $400 million going into August.

"In the spring of 2012, the peanut gallery was full of Republicans criticizing the Obama campaign for early investment," Holmes said. "And now in 2014, there are Obama Democrats criticizing McConnell for the same thing."

Even with the high burn rate, McConnell enjoys a sizable cash advantage over his rivals.

Bevin's campaign announced Monday it raised more than $1.1 million in the first quarter — its best yet — but the campaign would not disclose how much cash the challenger has left to spend.

Dollars raised is an important number, but what matters, especially six weeks from Election Day, is how much cash a candidate has to spend.

Without knowing Bevin's cash position, it's impossible to tell how aggressive the challenger's paid-media campaign will be in the closing weeks.

Grimes, who has proven herself an able fundraiser, was all too happy to pounce on McConnell's campaign spending, but she didn't release her own numbers Monday.

"As this cycle's number one recipient of D.C. lobbyist cash, McConnell shockingly burned through 120 percent of his money raised this quarter," Jonathan Hurst, Grimes' senior adviser, said in a statement. "D.C. special interests are not getting their money's worth, as recent public polls show McConnell trailing Alison Lundergan Grimes."

Hurst's swipe at McConnell suggests that the Democrat will release an impressive figure before Tuesday's reporting deadline, but there is another number that should give Democrats some heartburn: $21,334,523.

That's how much McConnell raised in the 2008 election cycle.

Put another way, a candidate who has a national reputation for being a fundraising machine has created and ramped up a money organization that already has raised $1 million more than it did six years ago and has done it with seven months to spare.

Meanwhile, McConnell's first-quarter report was his fourth in a row to show him raising more than $2 million, and the $2.4 million haul was his highest yet.

McConnell's burn rate is no doubt noteworthy, but as long as he keeps burning up the fundraising circuit, it seems likely he'll continue to enjoy a fundraising advantage over his rivals.

Political Paddock includes Sam Youngman's observations from the campaign trail. Sam Youngman: (502) 875-3793. Email: syoungman@herald-leader.com. Twitter: @samyoungman. Blog: Bluegrasspolitics.bloginky.com.

Lexington Herald-Leader is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service