Run For The Money

Run For The Money

Run For The Money
July 13, 2014

We will know whether the Republican gubernatorial nominee Rob Astorino has the funds necessary to be competitive against Gov. Andrew Cuomo by tomorrow, the deadline for all candidates to submit contribution data for the first half of the year to the state Board of Elections.

Estimates regarding how much Astorino needs to have raised to pose a significant challenge to Cuomo vary. But since he came into the race with a reported $1 million and said publicly that he secured $15 million in pledges, most people expect he will report somewhere in the vicinity of $16 million. 

If he reaches that number, or does even better, the campaign is likely to trumpet his total as a sign not only that the incumbent governor is vulnerable, but that the more voters and donors have gotten to know the Astorino over the last four months, the more they like him.

However, if his fundraising haul is lower than expected, the campaign is likely to try to argue that the Republican nominee has done well in light of him having entered the race as a relative unknown only a few months ago. And in comparison to Cuomo, who, according to the January report, had an astounding $33 million in the bank, Astorino, the sitting Westchester county executive, came in with just $1 million.

The Astorino campaign is also likely to make the case that ‘money isn’t everything,’ and point to some high-profile examples where under-funded underdogs defied the odds to pull out wins. The most recent example of this scenario is Dave Brat, whose shocking defeat of House Majority Leader Eric Cantor attracted national attention. In that case Cantor lost despite having a 26-to-1 cash advantage.

Of course, there are many other examples, including Barack Obama’s triumph over Hillary Clinton in 2008 and Astorino’s own come-from-behind victory over Andy Spano in the 2009 Westchester County Executive race. But the truth is these cases are rare. There is a reason Brat’s victory has been described as ‘stunning’ and ‘unexpected.’ Given how our system works it is not common for the underfunded to win. That is why all campaign managers can tell you stories about the lengths they go to trying to entice their candidates to make the fund-raising calls and appearances they often dread. It’s because the experts know that without money—and a lot of it—running and winning in the United States today is extremely hard and very rare.

This is why the numbers that will be made public on Tuesday matter so much. But don’t just take my word for it. When you look back at recent gubernatorial races you find without exception the candidate who raised the most and had the most in the bank as of the mid-July report went on to win the election. As Table 1 shows, in all of the last three New York governor’s races, the campaign with the highest opening balance, the most contributions, and the largest closing balance in July won in November.


Table 1: Fundraising for NY Governor’s Races, as of the July Reporting Data, 2002-2010

Year/Candidate

Opening Balance

Contributions

Closing Balance

Win/Loss

2010

       

A. Cuomo (D)

$16,140,923.94

$9,134,135.22

$23,660,656.28

W

Paladino (R)

$0.00

$1,762,001.24

$52,823.49

L

         

2006

       

Spitzer (D)

$19,041,637.94

$10,760,199.06

$16,307,651.43

W

Faso (R)

$932,739.24

$1,276,814.01

$1,424,748.39

L

         

2002

       

Pataki (R)*

$16,293,335.39

$12,787,752.98

$23,352,930.25

W

McCall (D)

$5,103,972.58

$1,970,016.02

$5,614,844.42

L

Source: New York State Board of Elections Database. The database contains all financial disclosure reports filed with NYSBOE beginning in July 

1999. Data from earlier years and races is not accessible via the NYSBOE database http://www.elections.ny.gov/recipientstext.html

*Incumbent


Going back another twelve years the only exception you find to this pattern is in 1994, when George Pataki beat incumbent Gov. Mario Cuomo. While the state Board of Elections’ electronic database doesn’t provide reports going back this far, contemporary news reports from that time show Cuomo did slightly better in terms of contributions and had more money in the bank. However, when you look carefully at those numbers one thing jumps out: Pataki did much better than expected in terms of contributions for the first half of 1994. In fact, as the Table 2 shows, he was just $200,000 behind the sitting governor.


Table 2: Fundraising for NY Governor’s Races, as of the July Reporting date, 1990-1998

Year/Candidate

Contributions

Closing Balance

Win/Loss

       

1998

             

Pataki (R)*

 $17,000,000

 $12,200,000

W

 

 

 

 

Vallone (D)

 $1,300,000

N/A

L

 

 

 

 

               

1994

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pataki (R)

 $2,000,000

 $1,300,000

W

 

 

 

 

Cuomo (D)*

 $2,200,000

 $3,550,000

L

 

 

 

 

               

1990

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cuomo (D)*

 $1,500,000

$7,700,000

W

 

 

 

 

Rinfret (R)

 $869,633

 $869,633

L

 

 

 

 

 Sources: Michael Finnegan, “Vallone Tops in Poll, Fundraising,” New York Times, July 16, 1998, 4; Kevin Sack, “Pataki Raises $2.2 Million For Campaign,” New York Times, July 16, 1994, 23;   Frank Lynn, “Rinfret Says He Put $540,250 Into Campaign,” New York Times, July 17, 1990, B1.

*Incumbent

N/A = Not available


There are at least two important takeaways from this data. First, in five out of the last six gubernatorial races the candidate who had the most donations and the most money in the bank in July went on to win. In 1994, the lone exception to this pattern, Pataki did not raise the most money or end with the highest closing balance in the July report, but when it came to donations he had a very strong early half of the year and drew much closer to the governor than expected.

This observation leads to the second takeaway, which is that the contributions a candidate has received since the last reporting period are key. Astorino doesn’t have to necessarily match or exceed what Cuomo has taken in since January, but he has to be in the vicinity. If he can show that he is able to at least compete with the governor according to this measurement he may be more competitive in November than either the polls show or most people expect. But if Cuomo’s donations since January dwarf Astorino’s the historic data at least suggests the county executive will remain a long shot at best.

 

Dr. Jeanne Zaino (@JeanneZaino on Twitter) is a political analyst, commentator, columnist, author, pollster and professor.

Jeanne Zaino
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