Money makes the world go round and that is especially true in the political world. While most candidates have to spend hours every day calling high dollar donors begging for donations, some wealthy candidates have shown the overwhelming advantage that being a self-funder gets you. In GOP senate primaries across the country, self-funders have seen quick rises in the polls and many of them have become unexpected frontrunners.
The first Senate primary on the calendar will be on May 3rd in the state of Ohio. The field has more self-funders than any other senate primary in the country. Listed below are the candidates running and the amount of money that they have given to themselves:
- Josh Mandel – $0
- JD Vance – $700,000
- Jane Timken – $3.5 million
- Matt Dolan – $10.5 million
- Mike Gibbons – $16.4 million
Josh Mandel, despite being the only candidate who has not self funded at all, led in the polls for months at a time. However, after investment banker Mike Gibbons flooded the airwaves with millions in TV ads, he surged to the front of the pack. In comparison, Josh Mandel enjoyed a sizable lead in polls last summer hovering around the 30% mark while Mike Gibbons consistently polled in single digits. The drastic shift can almost entirely be attributed to the massive spending that Mike Gibbons has been able to afford thanks to his massive amount of self funding. Recent polling from Trafalgar is showing that Gibbons may have peaked too early, but the fact he was able to rise from single digits to frontrunner shows how much self-funding can help boost a candidate.
The next competitive GOP senate primary following Ohio will be on May 17 in the state of Pennsylvania. The race had a very sudden shift once Trump endorsed frontrunner Sean Parnell dropped out of the race to focus on divorce hearings. Shortly after Parnell’s departure, we saw two massive self-funders enter the race: TV personality Dr. Mehmet Oz and hedge fund investor David McCormick. Despite a handful of other candidates being in the race for far longer than these two, Dr. Oz and McCormick have surged to the front of the pack in large part due to the millions that each have given themselves to fund their campaigns.
Listed below are the candidates running and the amount of money that they have given to themselves:
- Kathy Barnette – $0
- Jeff Bartos – $1.24 million
- Carla Sands – $3.9 million
- Mehmet Oz – $11 million
- Dave McCormick – $6.9 million
In addition to the millions that both Oz and McCormick have given themselves for their campaigns, they are also both being boosted by super PACs supporting their candidacies that have also spent tens of millions attacking each other and boosting themselves. Over $80 million has been spent so far in the PA senate race with still plenty of time to spend even more. This massive advertising blitz from the McCormick and Oz campaigns have effectively shut out the other three candidates from being able to win this primary.
The week after the PA primary will be the open senate primary in the state of Alabama. It is currently a three way race between Congressman Mo Brooks (who previously had an endorsement from Donald Trump before having the former president rescind the endorsement), former CEO of the Business Council of Alabama Katie Britt, and US army pilot and author Mike Durant. Listed below is the amount of money that they have given to themselves:
- Mo Brooks – $0
- Katie Britt – $0
- Mike Durant – $6.8 million
While Katie Britt has not self-funded at all, she has consistently reported massive fundraising quarters since the start of her campaign. She has raised a total of $5 million since the start of her campaign and had $4 million COH at the end of last quarter. Mo Brooks, on the other hand, has consistently reported weak fundraising numbers. Brooks has the benefit of being able to use the money left over from his congressional campaigns for his Senate run but has failed to have a single fundraising quarter where he has brought in more than $500,000.
Mike Durant, despite having a late entrance into the race, has surged to the front of the pack after flooding the airwaves with massive ad buys thanks to the millions that he has self-funded. He has also largely avoided any negative attack ads spent against him while Britt and Brooks have both had to deal with their fair share of negative ads. Polls at the end of last year had Brooks and Britt effectively tied with Mike Durant in the just below 20%.
The last Senate primary I’ll be discussing is the GOP primary in Arizona. The frontrunner in this primary is the state Attorney General Mark Brnovich. Accompanying him in the primary by venture capitalist Blake Masters, businessman Jim Lamon, and retired adjutant general of the Arizona National Guard Mick McGuire. Listed below is the amount of money that they have given to themselves:
- Mark Brnovich – $0
- Blake Masters – $0
- Jim Lamon – $13 million
- Mick McGuire – $999,500
Having name ID from previous statewide runs, Attorney General Mark Brnovich entered this race as the frontrunner. However, polling shows that his frontrunner status is not that difficult to overcome. Brnovich has also repeatedly brought in underwhelming fundraising quarters, having never brought in more than $1 million during a quarter. Jim Lamon, on the other hand, has given himself millions from his own personal wealth that he has used to flood the state with TV ads to go from a virtual unknown to a contender for first place. Lamon’s campaign has recently circulated an internal poll that shows him with a double-digit lead over Mark Brnovich. The internal had Lamon with 32% of the vote, Brnovich with 20%, and both other candidates struggling to break into double digits. Recent independent surveys, however, show a closer race. A new poll from OH Predictive Insights shows Mark Brnovich with 21% support and Jim Lamon with 16%. Lamon going from an unknown to a contender for frontrunner can be attributed to the massive amounts of self-funding he has funneled into his campaign. If Brnovich is unable to compete with these millions that Lamon can give himself, he may be at risk of losing his status as frontrunner.
Money is not everything in politics, but the rise of all these self-funders in senate races around the country demonstrates the overwhelming advantage that comes with being able to give your own campaigns millions. While some candidates have to spend lots of time fundraising from donors, some are able to simply drop a few million dollars in their own personal wealth to help themselves get elected. Rich candidates like Jim Lamon, Mike Gibbons, Mehmet Oz, David McCormick, and Mike Durant may not be able to win their primaries, but the millions they have been able to afford to give themselves definitely turns them into contenders. It could possibly turn them into senators as well.