Democrats' spending on gubernatorial primary expected to surpass record
Gov. Ed Rendell was 25 points behind in the polls when he waged the state's most expensive gubernatorial primary.
“When I started out, nobody thought I could beat Bob Casey, an extremely popular elected official,” Rendell said, recalling the 2002 open seat. “What I had going for myself was my ability to raise money.”
Rendell is the state's highest-grossing governor, raising more than $43 million in his first bid and $31.7 million for his re-election. State law does not cap campaign contributions, so politicians can raise and spend unlimited sums in running for office.
The field of four Democrats competing on Tuesday to run against Republican Gov. Tom Corbett in November has spent nearly $30.7 million this primary season, according to campaign finance forms filed through May 5. In Allegheny County, their efforts will be met by an estimated 30 percent of registered Democrats and 25 percent of registered Republicans, according to the county elections division. Similar turnout rates are expected in Westmoreland and Fayette counties.
Rendell's open-seat primary against now-U.S. Sen. Casey holds the state record for modern primary costs. Together, they spent $31.5 million.
G. Terry Madonna, pollster and political science professor at Franklin & Marshall College in Lancaster, said this year's Democrats are likely to surpass that record. Not only are there four major candidates, the pack has “deep pockets,” Madonna said, noting the fundraising experience of U.S. Rep. Allyson Schwartz, D-Philadelphia, and state Treasurer Rob McCord.
Katie McGinty, a former Department of Environmental Protection secretary, has been last in fundraising despite drumming up millions of dollars.
Presumed front-runner Tom Wolf, a businessman from York County, funneled $10 million of his personal fortune to his campaign, boosted by a $4.5 million loan.
Wolf was the first to buy TV airtime, with 1,800 ads in four media markets, Madonna said. He secured double-digit leads in polls that persisted through the last days of the race.
“No one knew him,” Madonna said. “His heavy media buy had completely transformed the nature of the election.”
Rendell purchased television ads three weeks and two days earlier than Casey. By May 2002, the campaign was burning through $1.1 million a week.
“We went on the air the first week in January and stayed on,” Rendell said. “Money was very important for that purpose.”
Statewide turnout that year was 33 percent among registered Democrats, with more than 1.2 million ballots cast. Combined, Rendell and Casey spent about $25.36 per vote.
Dan Fee, a Democratic consultant, said Pennsylvania's seven media markets demand high spending on advertising — and Philadelphia, the fourth-largest media market in the country, has prices roughly equivalent to the other six combined.
“All campaigns have always spent as much money as they thought it would take to win,” Fee said. “The issue is things are getting more expensive.”
Nationwide, candidates in the 2009-10 gubernatorial elections raised a record-setting $2.5 billion, up from $2.2 billion during the last cycle, according to the nonprofit National Institute on Money in State Politics in Helena, Mont. In 2009-10, Corbett had the sixth-highest campaign fundraising total nationwide: $28.5 million.
Denise Roth Barber, managing director at the institute, said statistics from 2000 through 2013 show 80 percent of the 245 gubernatorial hopefuls who were the top fundraisers in a general election won. But exceptions abound. In California in 2010, Republican Meg Whitman spent $140 million of her own money in a $170 million campaign — and lost.
“You don't have to be personally wealthy to run for governor, but it doesn't hurt to have access to money,” Barber said.
Wolf, who spoke at a campaign event on Thursday with state Rep. Ed Gainey, D-East Liberty, said money allows candidates to tell their story, but it's up to the voters to decide.
Wolf noted he is beholden to his biggest donor — himself — not outside interests.
“You can't buy an election; it's a democracy,” he said. “The verdict is ultimately rendered by the voters.”
Melissa Daniels is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-380-8511 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Steelers’ Harrison eyes stretch run
- Steelers notebook: Tomlin ends practice with third-down work
- Penguins co-owner Lemieux snuffs rumored rift with Crosby
- Warrants issued for women accused of prostitution in New Stanton sting
- NFL notebook: Gifford had CTE, family says
- Starkey: Artie Rowell’s incredible odyssey
- Obama signs $607B Defense bill but blasts GOP limits for Gitmo
- Pizza delivery woman robbed in Greensburg
- ‘Crisis mode’ near at U.S.-Mexico line as nearly 5,000 children try to cross border in October
- Pirates sign free agent 1B-OF Goebbert, RHP Webster
- Russia’s crackdown in predominantly Muslim region fuels exodus to ISIS