Republican candidates for next year’s governor’s race are leading their Democratic counterparts’ fundraising efforts by millions of dollars.
A political scientist at Vanderbilt says that shows Republicans are expecting a return on their investment, in the form of a GOP victory next fall.
Knoxville Mayor Bill Haslam maintains a commanding lead among Republicans, with almost $4 million raised. Trailing Haslam in the GOP are Congressman Zach Wamp and Lieutenant Governor Ron Ramsey, both with roughly one and a quarter million.
Vanderbilt Political Science Professor Bruce Oppenheimer says the heavy Republican contributions reflect a sense of optimism in gaining control of the office.
“It’s clear that given the amount of money that Republicans are willing to invest in trying to win the nomination, they see that nomination as more valuable at this point or having a better chance of paying off than the Democrats do the Democratic nomination.”
Oppenheimer cautioned a lot could change in the next year, but he says often candidates that appear strong early gain reinforcement from that as their race progresses.
Both Ramsey and Democratic Senator Roy Herron were barred by the rules of the legislature from raising funds until June. Both surged forward in the last month to avoid being branded as weak, but Oppenheimer says what’s more important is whether they can keep it up in the coming months.
All told, Republicans have raised roughly four times the amount Democrats have in the race.
The fourth Republican running, Shelby County District Attorney Bill Gibbons, has raised less than half a million dollars.
Bruce Oppenheimer on the role of finances in assessing the Republican field:
“Do we automatically think that because he’s raised the most money, Haslam is automatically viable? My gut reaction is yes, that that will be the conclusion.
“Do we have questions for example that Gibbons – who’s raised not nearly as much as the other three candidates on the Republican side – Do we have questions about his viability? I think again the answer is likely to be yes.
“It’s not the only indicator that people look at during this invisible primary season, but it’s one of those indicators.”
Despite the substantial disparity between the two parties’ funds, Oppenheimer says the race is far from decided.
“It may be that the Republicans bloody each other up so badly that whoever comes out of that primary is a more vulnerable candidate.”
Regardless, he says the candidates have a lot of work to do to develop statewide recognition.
Herron and fellow Democrat Mike McWherter each reported raising about $650 thousand.
Former state House Majority Leader Kim McMillan and Nashville businessman Ward Cammack both raised a few hundred thousand apiece, while state Senate Minority Leader Jim Kyle didn’t have to disclose because he only officially entered the race this month.
Kyle says he’s doing “very well,” but wouldn’t give a figure when reached Wednesday afternoon.
Search for candidates’ financial reports here.