If there are two things the media and punditry can lazily report and overanalyze its polls and campaign finance reports.  Since we are lazy pundits, allow us to weigh in on yesterday’s campaign finance reports.

In this off-year, the statewide campaigns are required to report semi-annually how much they have raised and spent since year-end reports were filed for 2012.   Yesterday’s reports cover campaign finance activity for the first half of 2013 for each statewide candidate who has created a campaign finance committee so far.

Before we look at the data, we need to keep in mind that the 2014 election is shaping up to be fairly unique.   Historically, it’s rare to see both parties have their full statewide tickets essentially laid out so early.  So trying to use past campaign finance data from this specific report to predict the success or failure of this year’s statewide campaigns is a tricky task.   The only instance that might come close to foreshadowing the result of an election sixteen months in the future is the 2010 election. 

As Modern pointed out on Twitter yesterday, the Iowa Ames straw poll has a better record predicting the outcome of the presidential election than this campaign finance reporting period.  In fact, if we learned nothing from the 2010 election, the state of the economy the year prior is a much stronger factor in determining the outcome of a race.  Gov. Strickland was unable to convince voters that Ohio was in the midst of a recovery (one stronger than the one we’ve seen in Ohio lately under Gov. Kasich) in 2010 because voters’ perceptions of the economy were shaped by what happened in 2009.  Given that Ohio’s economy has stagnated and we’re 47th in job creation, that would suggest a trend far more predictive of the race than today’s reports.

And here are a few more caveats to always keep in mind on campaign finance reports at any level:

  1. Republicans almost always out raise Democrats, but that doesn’t mean Republicans win.  (See, Josh Mandel ‘12.)
  2. Incumbents normally out raise challengers, especially early in a campaign.
  3. 1 & 2 should mean the GOP ticket has two big advantages in early fundraising.
  4. Cash on hand is meaningless for now because naturally an incumbent who has been raising money for nearly three years will have more cash on hand at this point than a challenger who just started raising money, at best, a couple of months ago.
  5. The most important takeaway is that the Democratic Party hasn’t  had a complete statewide ticket this early in recent Ohio political history.

To put these numbers in some context, I thought it would be important to compare them to the 2010 cycle where we last had a slate of challengers take on mostly incumbents and win, and the 2006 cycle in which the Democrats largely swept most open races.  Between the two cycles, I believe comparing the Democrats to the ‘10 Republicans is most apt since there are no open seat races next year.

I’ll give a race by race breakdown, but as you’ll see, the Democratic ticket, for the most part, shows an early fundraising strength that positions it better, or at the worst, roughly the same as the Republicans were in 2009 and the Democrats in 2005.

A. Governor

The last time Ohio had a gubernatorial candidate who only held an elected office at the county level, he raised a little over $800k… the entire campaign.  Four years ago, John Kasich was a former House Budget Chairman in Congress, had connections to Wall Street through his job at Lehman Brothers, and was on Fox News programs regularly hitting up viewers to donate through his campaign website.  Kasich had spent nearly three years touring Ohio using his PAC, Recharge Ohio, as an exploratory committee for a gubernatorial bid by building a fundraising network.

Ed FitzGerald simply announced his campaign.  I don’t know outside a few e-mails lately what he’s done to raise money beyond that.  But he hasn’t been on cable TV asking viewers for money.  He didn’t have a PAC like Kasich.  He doesn’t have a cozy relationships with Wall Street/venture capitalist types like Don Minor and Mark Kvamme.  Kasich got maxed out donations from folks like Donald Rumsfeld. FitzGerald?  Not so much.

Despite Kasich’s ability to turn the 2010 gubernatorial election into the most expensive race in Ohio history, Ed FitzGerald is in nearly the same position as Kasich was in 2009.

FitzGerald reported raising over $600k and has about $544k on hand.  Kasich reported raising almost $2.6 million and has a little more than $4.4 million on hand.  However, many of Kasich’s donors have maxed out already.  At this point in 2009, Strickland had raised about $2.5 million with a little more than $4 million on hand.  Kasich reported raising $516k  and having $451k on hand.  One big difference is that Kasich, in both races, only reports donation through the end of June whereas Strickland and FitzGerald, like most campaigns, went ahead and included July donations as well.

Yes, it’s also true that FitzGerald benefited from a $119,500 donation from the Ohio Democratic Party.  However, Kasich collected more than that from the Ohio Republican Party State Central & Executive Committee.  But factor that out, and FitzGerald basically comes out where Kasich was four years ago.  The only time you could find a Democratic candidate for Governor doing better than that is Ted Strickland in 2005 when he raised a little over a million.  However, Strickland was a member of the House Commerce Committee in Congress and the heavy favorite in an open seat contest.

FitzGerald needs to remind Ohioans that John Kasich has lead Ohio to our current spot as 47th in job creation after inheriting a state that was growing jobs and lowering unemployment at a virtually unprecedented pace.  You don’t need millions to do that, especially if Kasich keeps earning himself horrible media like yesterday’s JobsOhio disaster.  Kasich is going to need every penny trying confuse voters into forgetting his multiple broken promises and failed economic policies.

FitzGerald can raise more money without expanding his fundraising base (which will naturally expand over time.)  Kasich has been in office for nearly three years and has largely tapped out most of his donors’ legal limits.  Anyone who suggests FitzGerald is in trouble is trying to hold FitzGerald to a standard no gubernatorial challenger, Democratic or Republican,  has ever been held to before..

B. Attorney General

In case you didn’t know, David Pepper got married and went on his honeymoon last month.  David was the first announced Democratic statewide candidate.  But even he didn’t announce until mid-April, more than two-thirds of the way into this reporting period.  Despite these factors, David reported raising a little over $200k and has about that much on hand.  Incumbent Mike DeWine reported raising $567k ($600k if you count the in-kind contributions) and technically has nearly $1.2 million on hand if you don’t also factor in the $350k in campaign debt the campaign owes DeWine from the 2010 election (which DeWine’s campaign has been paying back).

At this point in 2009, Rich Corday raised over $1.1 million, had $2 million on hand with outstanding campaign debts.  DeWine had only reported raising $39,500.  Yet, DeWine was able to go on to narrowly beat Cordray (again proving that today’s report has little predictive value of an election 16 months out.)

But to the extent you believe such reports do show early campaign strength, it’s pretty clear that David Pepper’s campaign, financially, is in a far better early position that DeWine himself was at the same point in the 2010 election cycle when he was challenging Cordray.  We can’t really compare this race to 2006 because at the time, the only candidate raising money was Democrat Subodh Chandra, who reported raising $116k.   Marc Dann didn’t even announce his entry in the race until November 2009.  There was no GOP candidate for the race yet because of the crowded GOP fight for the gubernatorial nomination.

With the possible exception of  Betty Montgomery unseating Lee Fisher (that report is not accessible on the Internet anymore), you’d be hard pressed to find a challenger in an Attorney General’s race as financially competitive against the incumbent this early as David Pepper is right now.

C. Auditor

Democratic State Representative John Patrick Carney hasn’t even officially announced he’s running yet, and he’s already in a stronger position than his incumbent GOP opponent David Yost.  Carney raised over $304k and has nearly $450k on hand.  David Yost raised only $193k, the least amount of any statewide candidate (incumbent or otherwise), and has $520k on hand.

At this same point in 2009, incumbent Mary Taylor was moving out of the race to join Kasich’s ticket while Yost was moving over to this race.  Taylor reported raising less than $108k.  Eventual Democratic nominee David Pepper reported raisingnearly $318k.  David Yost, who had just entered the race, reported raising $42k.  Pepper would go on to narrowly lose to Yost.

In 2005, Mary Taylor announced she had raised $142k.  There was no Democratic candidate formally raising money as an Auditor candidate at the time, but eventual nominee Barb Sykes’ House campaign reported raising nearly $9k, which she transferred into her Auditor campaign after she announced in late January 2006.

So right now, Carney is in a stronger financial position than Mary Taylor was in 2005 or Yost, Taylor, or Pepper were in 2009.  As VP Biden would say, this is a BFD.  Carney is overcoming, already, the three caveats we stated at the beginning.

D. Secretary of State

State Senator Nina Turner officially announced she was running for Secretary of State two weeks ago.   She create a campaign committee for the Secretary of State’s race until the first of this month. Yet, she reported raising over $203k in a month to Jon Husted’s nearly $594k over the last six months.  Husted has about $1.6 million on hand to Turner’s $129k.

Comparing this race to the 2010 or 2006 cycle is difficult since Husted was the only candidate in 2009 who had a campaign committee (Jennifer Garrison, who eventually dropped out of the Democratic race, didn’t announce her bid until August 2009, which is also when she filed a campaign committee for the race, however her House campaign, at the time had reported raising over $185k.)  Husted report in 2009 raising nearly $805k and having $1.2 million on hand.

In 2005, Jennifer Brunner was not even a candidate yet, and her eventual GOP opponent reported raising only $750 at this point, so any comparison to that cycle is useless except to again point out how pointless this reporting period can be to analyze.

But if you do believe these reports this early show anything, Jon Husted is raising less money as an incumbent than he did as a challenger four years ago, and has only 400k more on hand.  If Turner could repeat the rate she raised money in one month over the entire period, she could out raised Husted by a longshot and have over $1 million on hand.  In other words, Turner showed signs that she can easily compete with Husted if she can keep up the pace.

D. Treasurer

Josh Mandel raises money like it’s his only job, and he continued to show that to be the case.  However, there are some major fault lines in his report.  Mandel reported raising $1.1 million (not counting inkind contributions) and having a little over a million on hand.  Democratic State Representative Connie Pillich reported raising a little over $312k and having roughly $292k on hand.  However, Josh Mandel received $250,000 from the Ohio GOP today to meet the reporting deadline.  That’s nearly a quarter of what he raised. And while Mandel shows he’s been raising money all year, Connie Pillich didn’t announce her candidacy until late May, nearly two months before the reporting deadline.

In 2009, Mandel reported raising just over $1 million.  So it took the Ohio GOP today to get Mandel to show about the same amount of fundraising as an incumbent than he showed as a challenger four years ago.  Also, most of Mandel’s money came in after June 30th.  Campaigns have the option to voluntarily disclose July donations, but the cutoff is actually June 30th.  If the media is going to criticize FitzGerald for inflating his numbers to Kasich’s 2009 numbers by including July donations, then they should do the same thing to Mandel.

In 2005, Hugh Quill was the ONLY candidate to file a semiannual report for a State Treasure campaign as neither Richard Cordray or his eventual GOP opponent had launched their bids.

Mandel is financially performing weaker than he was just four years ago.  Because he ran for the Senate, he’s neglected raising money for his State Treasurer’s campaign until this year.  Connie Pillich’s report shows she didn’t start raising money for her Treasurer campaign until late May when she announced.  Roughly 75% of her contributions were received when her campaign account was for her Treasurer’s race.  Only 25% of it was raised from her House campaign account.

So in 72 days as an announced Treasurer candidate, Pillich raised over $233k to the million Mandel took 211 days to raise as the incumbent.  So Pillich is raising money at roughly the same clip and she’s doing it with 1/10th the financial contributions from the state party as Mandel.

Again, as we said, across the ticket, Democrats are, at worst, about where the Republicans were in 2009 and stronger than Democratic candidates were in 2005, but in many regards they’re actually in a better financial position than even the GOP challengers were at this point in 2009.