We are now within striking distance of November 2, so much so that Muse’s “Uprising” is my ringtone. “Rise up and take the power back/It’s time the fat cats had a heart attack … .”
As we get down to the wire, polls matter, block walks matter, enthusiasm matters — and money matters. In fact, money tells us a lot about the health of a candidate and where he or she stands in relation to his or her opponent. Money raised and money in the war chest tells us who’s going to hit the gas through October, and who’s going to be running on fumes when election day draws near.
That in mind, let’s turn our eyes to Texas. Much has been made of Democrat Bill White’s relatively strong run for governor. The former Houston mayor has never led incumbent Republican Gov. Rick Perry, but the race hasn’t been a blowout. Perry currently has a poll lead somewhere between 6 and 8 points, with the margins of error making that as close as 3 points or as wide as maybe 10. For a conservative Republican running in a conservative Republican bastion in a decidedly Republican year, even that’s a little closer than anyone expected. Particularly if we’re really at the low end of those margins. For the record, I don’t think we are, but now is not a time to take anything for granted.
The money lines tell us a very different story from the polls. Earlier in the year, Bill White had a cash advantage and went on a spending spree and bought millions of dollars in media. To some extent he needed to; the question was whether he was spending his money too early, and was he spending too much of it within Houston where he should be strong. As the former mayor of Houston, he was for all intents and purposes unknown to the vast majority of Texans. He had to convince them that he’s not just another big-spending, tax-loving liberal Democrat. He went into that buying season with a deficit in the polls of between 6 and 8 points, and came out of with a poll deficit of … between 6 and 8 points. Six million dollars didn’t move the needle a bit, but they did put White’s campaign a little behind Perry’s in cash on hand at that point. But where are we now?
On Monday, both campaigns released their numbers for the past quarter, July through September. Both campaigns crowed about their healthy numbers. But in a race of two, only one can come in first. And here are their respective numbers.
According to the White campaign, Bill White raised $4.68 million, and now has $2.75 million cash on hand. That’s not bad.
But I bet he wants that $6 million back that he spent too early in the campaign to introduce himself. Since that time, he had a miserable couple of weeks as President Obama’s visit to Texas sent him running for the hills. And he’s had to answer for the whole BTEC scandal, in which he apparently profiteered from a company he hired to perform services during hurricane relief. Hurricane relief had been Bill White’s claim to governmental competency; that story made it his claim to corruption.
Gov. Perry’s fundraising numbers run like this: In the same period in which White raised nearly $5 million, Perry raised $8.2 million. He reports a little over $10 million cash on hand.
White: $2.75 million cash on hand. Perry: $10 million cash on hand. That’s nearly a four-to-one advantage for Perry, with about four weeks to go. When I reached the campaign Monday night, Perry campaign spokesman Mark Miner was blunt: “Bill White has run his campaign into the ground financially, much like he did to the city of Houston when he was mayor. Now he is bankrupt on ideas and campaign dollars.”
There’s more bad news for White. A week back, the Democratic Governors Association announced that they were pouring about $2 million into Texas. That sounds like good news for White, and it mostly is, but there’s a catch: The DGA is spending the money directly. They don’t want White to manage it so they’re buying the ads themselves. That’s not only a vote of no confidence in the way White is running his campaign, it’s a vote of no confidence with a price tag. If the DGA gave their money directly to White, they’d get his advertising rates, which means their dollars would go about 25% farther.
So why would the DGA waste so much money this way? Word is, White is micromanaging his campaign, and he’s just not doing it well. Every tweet, every Facebook post, every ad — everything — has to pass his eyes before it goes out. He’s strangling his own campaign, and he can ill afford to. White simply is not raising the money to keep up with Perry, and what he did raise early on, he wasted.
This race isn’t over yet, not by a long shot. But Gov. Perry is poised to take his lead through the last month of the campaign running strong, while the best White can do is struggle just to get to the finishing line.