With third quarter fundraising reports released Tuesday (Oct. 15), political junkies across the state appeared less than surprised by the second straight quarter of record breaking fundraising by Democratic gubernatorial candidate Mike Ross or the less than stellar fundraising of Republican Asa Hutchinson.
The real surprises yesterday, according to two political observers who spoke to The City Wire, were the fundraising reports to come from Republicans seeking their party's nomination in the Fourth Congressional District.
Tommy Moll, a Hot Springs businessman, reported raising more than $281,000. His opponent, Arkansas House Majority Leader Bruce Westerman only reported raising $110,466.43.
Dr. Janine Parry, a University of Arkansas political science professor and the director of the Arkansas Poll, said she was caught off guard by Westerman's fundraising figures.
"I suspected Westerman (would do better) and with good reason since he was majority leader in the House," she said. "Usually those folks are better connected and better able to raise funds."
Mitchell Lowe, a consultant with Capitol Advisors in Little Rock and a former executive director of the Republican Party of Arkansas, said while Westerman's numbers were lower than many political insiders expected, he could still have a major advantage in the district currently represented by U.S. Rep. Tom Cotton, R-Dardanelle, who is forgoing re-election in order to challenge U.S. Sen. Mark Pryor, D-Ark., in his re-election bid next year.
"The one concern I would have is it literally took me a long time to find an individual contributor (to Moll) from the Fourth District of Arkansas. That has to be part of the story, no question. The money from other parts of Arkansas, and New York and Virginia (where Moll went to law school and college) spends the same as (money from) the Fourth District, but he lacks relationships with the Fourth District of Arkansas."
But will Moll, a graduate of Fort Smith's Southside High School, be viewed as a carpetbagger in spite of his strong fundraising in the sprawling Fourth District, which now goes from the Oklahoma border almost to Mississippi and from Louisiana up into Madison County? Parry said it is too early to tell, though it is unlikely to stop Westerman or outside groups in support of Westerman from making the claim.
"It will depend on the messaging that the other camp does, with how successful they are with sending that to voters," she said. "Accusations of carpet bagging are fairly common. Sometimes they stick. It's something to which candidates can be vulnerable."
Lowe said he would not be surprised to see Moll's residency during the last decade or longer discussed during the campaign as Westerman attempts to overcome his fundraising disadvantage.
"I do know Bruce (Westerman). He's proud to be a lifelong resident of the Fourth Congressional District. I also know that he's going to make the case that he's the best guy to represent the Fourth Congressional District. I think part of the record is the guy he's running against is not from the Fourth District. The money from behind Moll is not from the Fourth District. That will be part of the story and I think Bruce will make that part of the story and probably should be part of the story."
While the race for the Fourth District is still developing, the race for governor is already in full swing with Democrat Mike Ross, his party's presumptive nominee, and Asa Hutchinson, the frontrunner in the Republican primary, already garnering heavy amounts of attention.
Fundraising reports showed Ross, raising $1.1 million during the third quarter. That is the highest amount ever raised by a gubernatorial candidate in their second quarter of fundraising. He previously broke the record for most raised in a quarter when he raised $1.97 million during the second quarter. As of yesterday, the Ross campaign had just short of $2.4 million cash on hand.
By comparison, Hutchinson only raised $390,000 during the quarter, which included a $62,000 loan to his campaign. The total brought the Republican to $1 million cash on hand.
While Ross appears to have a clear lead in fundraising and available cash, Lowe points not to poll numbers (a Talk Business-Hendrix College poll released Sunday showed Hutchinson in the lead), but to the rate at which candidates are spending money.
"I thought it was significant that the Ross campaign has spent $700,000 through Sept. 30. If you project that out, that's in the neighborhood of $2 million to keep the lights on if you project to election day. That's somewhere around a 25% burn rate a year before the election. At some point, you either sustain fundraising or you sustain burn rate."
By comparison, Lowe pointed to Hutchinson's burn rate of around 11% as showing that Hutchinson could be more competitive financially as the candidates move closer to the general election, which is still a little over a year away.
Parry pointed to Ross' strong fundraising and Hutchinson's leads in the polls as showing a disconnect in the state.
"I think it tells us that elites are having one conversation and voters are having another," she said. "I think part of that is poll numbers can be pretty soft this far out and (fundraising) can shift those numbers, if that makes sense. Sometimes (fundraising) can shift poll numbers down the road. But it's just kind of inside baseball right now. I think there's still some generic Republican advantage, which we've seen in the last couple of election cycles."
As for why Hutchinson's fundraising numbers are not stronger, Parry said it was really hard to tell.
"I think there's some feeling that this is finally his year, but it could be that it's sluggish (because) there are a few lesser known candidates making some noise and people just haven't gotten out their wallets."
Parry said the large number of undecideds, 22% in the Talk Business-Hendrix College poll, showed that the race could still change in the next year. She said it was important to watch what happens at the national level in order to see how it translates down to candidates in all Arkansas races.
"It's those independent voters who seem to be heavily influenced by national conversation," she said. "The direction of that national conversation often swings them down ballot, so that's the kind of stuff I'm going to be looking for."
Third quarter fundraising totals for races for U.S. Senate, the Third and Fourth Congressional Districts and Arkansas Constitutional Officers are listed below:
• U.S. Senate
Democrat U.S. Sen. Mark Pryor
Raised: $1.068 million
Cash on hand: $4.4 million
Republican U.S. Rep. Tom Cotton
Raised: $1.073 million
Cash on hand: $1.806 million
Democrat Mike Ross
Raised: $1.12 million
Cash on hand: $2.396 million
Republican Curtis Coleman
Cash on hand: $11,179
Republican Rep. Debra Hobbs
Cash on hand: $46,493
Republican Asa Hutchinson
Cash on hand: $1 million
• Lieutenant Governor
Democrat John Burkhalter
Cash on hand: $456,790
Republican Rep. Charlie Collins
Cash on hand: $51,431
• Fourth Congressional District
Republican Tommy Moll
Cash on hand: $266,963
Republican Rep. Bruce Westerman
Cash on hand: $98,561
• Third Congressional District
Republican U.S. Rep. Steve Womack
Cash on hand: $605,114
• Attorney General
Democrat Nate Steel
Cash on hand: $180,257
Republican Leslie Rutledge
Cash on hand: $89,204
Republican David Sterling
Cash on hand: $88,446
• Secretary of State
Democrat Susan Inman
Cash on hand: $2,538
Republican Dennis Milligan
Cash on hand: $49,772