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PoliticsPA: Dems say fundraising edge will help drive voters to polls

By Alex Irwin

PoliticsPA Contributor

Republicans are riding a wave of enthusiasm they hope will propel them to victory in several close state house elections. But in an election that’s become all about turnout for Democrats, the House Democratic Campaign Committee has one advantage it hopes will push back against the looming conservative tide: money.

The HDCC topped House Republican Campaign Committee fundraising efforts by more than $320,000 in the most recent election cycle, which ended Oct. 18. Since then, the HDCC says it’s raised nearly $2 million, and the HRCC says it’s raised about $1 million.

Fiona Conroy, executive director at the HDCC, says that fundraising advantage has given them the upper hand in get-out-the-vote efforts throughout the election, culminating with a massive push in the final days leading up to Nov. 2.

“In every category — doors knocked, phone calls made, supporters identified — we’ve roughly doubled the efforts we had in 2008. We’ve gotten to twice as many voters and identified twice as many supporters, for all intents and purposes,” Conroy said. “For the final weekend, our job is to capitalize on the enthusiasm that’s being created on the state house level and that we’re hearing about in the gubernatorial and U.S. Senate races and turn out voters that we know are for us if we get them to the polls.”

The HDCC has prepped an all-out assault of get-out-the-vote efforts in the last few days of the election, including the continued use of national field operations experts and countless volunteers.

For Republicans, driving voter turnout in these final days isn’t the do-or-die issue it’s become for Democrats. Dave Reed (R-Indiana), the HRCC chair, said his committee has stuck to its long-term strategy, viewing the election as “a marathon, not a sprint.”

“We’re certainly spending the money necessary in this last week, but we’re not dumping extra money in all over the board because we’re panicking or anything like that,” Reed said. “We had the strategy, we stuck to the strategy. We’re going to carry it through, and it’s going to carry us to the majority.”

Mike Gerber (D-Montgomery), chairman of the HDCC, disagrees. He said the fundraising advantage puts Democrats in place to hold the house, which they currently control 104 to 98.

“With the fundraising we’ve done and the sophisticated campaigns we’ve run, we have positioned ourselves to buck the national trend and hold on to the majority in the state house,” Gerber said.

The HDCC has raised nearly $7 million compared to the HRCC’s $5.6 million since this election began. Reed said the HRCC didn’t need to raise as much in this election, thanks to solid recruitment efforts and local enthusiasm for candidates.

“Our local candidates are raising money, they’re working hard,” Reed said. “They’ve put themselves in a good position. So in a lot of these races we just had to go in and help get them over the top.”

In fact, Reed said he expected the incumbent Democrats to raise more on the strength of special interest donations and “Rendell money.”

“We thought they might raise $10 million in this race, and they certainly haven’t hit that number. So anything below $10 million, in our estimates, was a win for us.”

Terry Madonna, director of the Franklin & Marshall College Poll, said it only makes sense that Democrats would take the lead on fundraising as the incumbent party.

“You have a lot of Democrats controlling the house who’ve been able to raise money and can now help Democratic candidates in districts where there’s tough going or an open seat,” Madonna said.

Notable Democratic donors include Gerber and Dwight Evans (D-Philadelphia), as well as the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee. For Republicans, Sam Smith (R-Jefferson) and Mike Turzai (R-Allegheny) have been significant contributors.

With so many contested seats in this election, every dollar makes a difference. Both committees said they’re putting money into more than 30 races in which they think they can compete. Conroy said that makes smart spending that much more important.

“Certainly there are more races in play this cycle than in previous elections. What that’s meant from a spending perspective is having a detailed knowledge of what each race costs to win — that varies greatly in a state like this,” Conroy said. “So we’ve had to raise more money to spend more money more places. And that’s what we feel we’ve done.”

Reed reiterated that the strength of individual Republican candidates is what’s allowed the GOP to stay competitive in so many races.

“There are literally 35 races we’re spending money on. That’s really been a testament to the candidates and a testament to the mood of the electorate,” Reed said.

Madonna said Republicans stand a good chance of picking up the majority in the house, especially given GOP gubernatorial candidate Tom Corbett’s significant lead over Democrat Dan Onorato in recent polls. But he said the Democrats still have a shot if they can drive voters out to the polls.

“It’s no longer about ideas. It’s no longer about policy. It’s now down to very simple, grassroots turnout politics,” Madonna said.

But for Gerber, Conroy and the HDCC, that final push is anything but simple. The fundraising advantage they’ve sustained throughout the election allowed them to invest in get-out-the-vote operations early, and Conroy says that head start will help them run a more effective get-out-the-vote campaign in these last few days.

“It would be very hard to spend this kind of money in field operations had we not been doing it for a year.”

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