Larry Craig and Walt Minnick act as if they couldn’t possibly raise enough money in their fight for U.S. Senate.
“We are facing a very serious challenger” with great personal wealth, said Mike Tracy, spokesman for the Craig campaign. “He’s got a lot of wealthy people from out-of-state giving him money.”
Bill Broadhead, press secretary for Minnick’s campaign, echoed that worry: “Challengers usually have to run with less money.” Minnick, a Democrat, faces formidable opposition in Larry Craig, “who has taken almost $2 million in PAC contributions in the last 16 years,” Broadhead said.
But the latest Federal Elections Commission reports show that neither candidate is in any danger of destitution. And the breathtaking pace of their fund raising is getting national attention.
Minnick, a Boise timber products executive, has had an impressive year, raising $869,894, to Craig’s $768,112. That’s easily the closest any challenger has gotten to Craig’s cash stash since Craig first ran for Congress in 1980.
That means Minnick has raised more than $1 million since entering the race in 1995. More than a third of that money has come directly from Minnick’s pocket.
Craig, meanwhile, is comfortably over the $2 million fund-raising mark. And he’s spending nearly $3 for every $1 Minnick is spending.
That has the attention of some political scientists.
“That’s not really typical given the typical wisdom that (Craig) has a safe seat and not much to worry about,” said Florence Heffron, director of the Public Affairs Research Bureau at University of Idaho. And “it’s a little surprising (Craig) is already running TV ads.”
Craig’s strategy may be to spend freely to ensure his lead stays comfortable, she said. It also may indicate he’s not as confident about his lead as he says he is.
Campaign staff for Craig say it’s the nature of their challenger. The big spending is necessary to combat Minnick’s personal wealth - estimated at $10 million - and because both the national and state Democratic parties may pour big dollars into the race, Tracy said.
The early television advertising is mandatory “when you’re under attack and your opponent has one big mud-sling, negative attack,” Tracy said.
The Craig campaign makes much of the fact that Minnick has raised $43,600 from large contributors from California and New York, while pulling in only $28,366 from large Idaho contributors. In a television ad, Minnick advertises “Walt Minnick for us and Larry Craig for them,” Tracy said. Because of the out-of-state money, “we’re wondering who that ‘us’ is.”
Minnick’s staff says these well-heeled donors are people who knew Minnick when he was running TJ International and believe in Minnick’s ability.
Craig has his own slate of wealthy out-of-state donors. A dozen Texans have given him $14,500 so far this year, a fact the Craig campaign explains as coming from a musical tour in the Lone Star State with the “Singing Senators.”
Overall, this year, he’s pulled in about $34,000 from large, out-of-state donors.
Craig does have an impressive number of small, in-state donors - more than 6,000 this year alone. But he also gets big money from the timber industry.
In the past six months alone, everybody from a Boise Cascade bookkeeper to the president of Crown Pacific Corp. has donated, giving him a total of $13,213.
His campaign’s criticism of out-of-state money naturally leaves Craig open to criticism about his political action committee contributions. Craig has received $806,305 this campaign from a variety of PACs. Plus he has received more from the timber PACs about $22,000 - than any other senator in this election cycle.
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