We’ve discussed how Wendy Can Win and what the latest poll numbers say about Wendy Davis’ chances of winning should she run for Governor. It is no secret that we think she has a fighting chance and that her candidacy could be the catalyst for a political transformation in Texas of epic proportion. But we all know that a campaign costs money, and in Texas, a winning statewide campaign in 2014 would have to foot the past due bill to rebuild the political infrastructure that has deteriorated or disappeared since Ann Richards lived in the Governor’s Mansion. And once that is in place, a winning candidate has to be up on the air in three of the nation’s top media markets, plus five other expensive media markets. Greg Abbott already has over $20 million for the 2014 campaign, so Davis would enter the race with serious ground to make up.
In 2002, TX gubernatorial candidate Tony Sanchez reportedly spent $60 million of his own money and $4 million from other sources in his bid against Rick Perry. Sanchez outspent Perry nearly 3 to 1 yet lost. There are many reasons for that loss that have nothing to do with money, but the fact remains that Davis would need to raise and spend upwards of $40 million to be competitive against Abbott.
From Cambridge to Dallas: What Lessons Can We Learn from Elizabeth Warren?
Perhaps the best model for how a boldly progressive, charismatic, ultra smart woman like Davis could raise that sort of political money is Senator Elizabeth Warren’s 2012 campaign. And in a sense, Davis has an advantage over Warren in that she is already an experienced fundraiser, having successfully raised the funds to retain her State Senate seat in a highly competitive election in 2012. Her 2012 campaign raised over $4 million dollars.
Davis isn’t likely to be able to raise $40 million + within her own state, but neither was Warren. By relying on a national fundraising program to supplement in-state dollars, Warren pulled off a remarkable fundraising feat. Warren put together $42.5 million to get herself elected in 2012. $41.4 million of that total came from individual contributions, and $1.1 million came from PACs and other sources. Notably, over 54% of the individual contribution dollars came from donors who gave less than $200 to her campaign. This is a remarkably high ratio of small to high dollar donors for a US Senate campaign. The average US Senate campaign only takes in about 14% of its total haul in amounts less than $200, according to the NYT. In fact, conservative website Breitbart wrote a piece about the high number of her small donors that spawned a flurry of other doom and gloom articles by conservative websites, decrying the “secretive” nature of these contributions. (Federal law does not require that campaigns report as much information on these donations as it does for donations of $200 or more.)
An examination of the donations received by Warren in amounts of $200 or more reveals that 64% of her contributions came from outside of Massachusetts. While we cannot confirm this, it is possible if not likely that the majority of her small donations came from outside of the state as well. Obviously, Warren was able to tap into a strong sentiment among donors that resonated not only within MA, but throughout the country. Could Davis do the same?
In the two weeks following the famous filibuster (June 17-30) Davis raised almost $1 million in online donations. Note that this was entirely “passive” fundraising, in that elected officials in Texas are barred from actively soliciting donations just before and after the Legislature is in Regular session, which spanned 140 days in 2013 prior to June 17th. According to the Texas Tribune, over 2/3s of the $1 million came from within the state, and about $300,000 was from outside the state. But most importantly, 2/3 of the 15,290 separate donations she received came from donors residing outside of Texas. Moreover, 13,000 of her donors gave amounts less than $50.
If the initial reaction to Wendy Davis outside of Texas holds, she is on track to match Elizabeth Warren’s appeal to a national donor audience. I had the privilege of attending her July fundraiser at a Washington, D.C. restaurant steps away from the Capitol where Senators Boxer, Gillibrand, Blumenthal, Shaheen, Franken, Leader Pelosi, Governor Hassan, and a gaggle of Members of Congress were giddy with excitement and fawning over Davis. Big dollar donors were squeezed into the room like sardines because so many more people attended than expected. And the “low” dollar event she held that evening was sold out days in advance. At this rate, she could even break the fundraising records set by Warren among small donors outside of Texas.
A quick look at outside spending on behalf of Elizabeth Warren reveals a list of groups that are likely to strongly support a Davis bid for the Texas Governorship. Independent Expenditures spent approximately $2.1 million supporting Warren and $3.1 million against Brown in the 2012 battle. We’ll share more about this potential source of funding in the weeks ahead.