Luke Messer’s fundraising prowess gives him the edge in winning the Republican Party’s 6th District congressional nomination in the May 8 primary, but an ample war chest nevertheless doesn’t guarantee victory, political observers say.
Mike Pence, of Columbus, who is unopposed in the primary, is leading his Democratic opponent for the governor’s office in the fundraising battle, with more than three times as much in donations and cash on hand.
Messer, of Shelbyville, raised $542,705 in the first quarter of this year, according to campaign finance reports filed with the Federal Election Commission. Don Bates Jr., of Richmond, raised $149,487 and Travis Hankins, of Columbus, $135,554.
“A candidate for office does not have to win the money game. In other words, a candidate who spends the most amount of money does not always win. However, you do have to compete,” said Matthew Bergbower, assistant professor of political science at Indiana University.
Republican Bill Frazier, of Muncie, reported having $730,330, but $730,000 was money he lent his campaign. Joe Sizemore, of Metamora, and Joseph Van Wye, of Madison, did not raise any money in the first quarter.
“Messer’s fundraising lead is to be expected. He has the inside support of the Indiana Republican Party and they, in turn, have lined up Washington support via PACs,” said Raymond Scheele, co-director of The Bowen Center for Public Affairs at Ball State University.
Messer’s money helps buy name recognition, which is important in a crowded primary, Scheele added. And, he doesn’t expect Frazier’s loan will help in what he expects to be a low-turnout primary.
Jim Crone, of Hanover, led 6th District Democratic candidates with $31,845, although he lent his campaign $18,627. Brad Bookout, of Yorktown, reported $19,937. Brad Bolling, of Centerville, Susan Hall Heitzman, of North Vernon, and George Holland, of Rushville, did not raise any money.
“Bookout has strength in the northern counties where the bulk of Democratic voters reside and he has to be favored, although Crone is showing some life in his campaign,” Scheele said. “With small sums of money, home county support is key for each of these candidates.”
After the primary, though, “barring some unforeseen disaster,” Democrats have no chance of winning the 6th District, said Andrae Marak, associate professor of political science at IUPUC.
Messer, Hankins and Bates Jr. are similar in their touting of conservative values, but the 6th District GOP frontrunners diverge in terms of financial support for their campaigns.
Of the 385 contributions to Messer’s campaign, 173 (45 percent) were $1,000 or more, and 86 (22 percent) topped $2,000. Bates had only 83 donations, but 47 (57 percent) were for at least $1,000, and 27 (33 percent) were for at least $2,000. Only 25 of Hankins’ 196 donations (13 percent) were for at least $1,000.
Messer received $48,000 from political action committees. Bates and Hankins received no PAC money.
Messer’s contributions came from 13 states in addition to Indiana and from the District of Columbia. Hankins’ and Bates’ contributions were from the Midwest.
“It is pretty common for candidates to receive donations from out-of-district or even out-of-state. They want as much money as they can get, and candidates for office simply need to work their connections as much as possible,” Bergbower said.
Hankins has the support of a lot of retired individuals but also received contributions from people in the medical, business and educational fields. State Sen. Greg Walker, R-Columbus, is on Bates’ list of donors, along with business owners, physicians and educators at Christian schools. Messer received individual donations from attorneys, business owners and executives, mayors, educators and people in the medical field.
U.S. Rep. Mike Pence, R-Ind., raised $1.8 million in the first quarter and had $4.9 million cash on hand, according to campaign finance reports filed with the Indiana Election Division. Democrat John Gregg raised $584,570 in the quarter and had $1.5 million cash on hand.
“John Gregg has to step up fundraising fast,” Scheele said. “He is already seeing the calendar slip by with no real traction. The governor’s race will be a high-profile race, but if Gregg cannot get his message out on over-the-air TV, Pence will have funds to coast to victory.”
Pence has multiple donations of at least $50,000 and $100,000, largely from business owners, including Angie’s List co-founder William S. Oesterle. Gregg’s large contributions are mostly in the $10,000 range, although he received one $90,000 contribution from a union PAC. Union support is a strength of Gregg’s campaign, but one of his donors is Indiana Pacers owner Herb Simon.
“Getting donations is difficult, and donors want to support winners,” Bergbower said. “Mike Pence is projecting to win the governor’s race, so that is a good explanation as to why he is doing well in fundraising. The fact that he is currently an elected official in the U.S. House is another good explanation.”