Gillespie is GOP’s Best Shot to Flip a Seat this Year, So Where’s the Money?

Written by on October 2, 2017

Ed Gillespie has raised considerably less money than other recent contenders for Virginia governor, despite his extraordinarily deep ties to the Republican donor class.

With a long history in national politics and a bond with an ex-president, Gillespie was expected to be the GOP version of Gov. Terry McAuliffe, the former Democratic National Committee chairman and Bill Clinton buddy who broke fundraising records with his bid four years ago.

Gillespie is a former Washington lobbyist, Republican National Committee chairman and counselor to President George W. Bush. And he’s the Republican Party’s only shot for flipping a governorship this year.

Yet Gillespie raised just $10 million through Aug. 31, well below the nearly $15 million haul of his Democratic rival, Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam — and behind what every other gubernatorial hopeful has raised for the past three cycles when those figures are adjusted for inflation, according to an analysis by the nonpartisan Virginia Public Access Project.

The last gubernatorial candidate to raise less than Gillespie was Republican Mark Earley, who lost his 2001 bid to now-Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-Va.)

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In today’s dollars, Gillespie trails McAuliffe ($21 million) and Ken Cuccinelli ($14 million) in 2013, Robert F. McDonnell ($15 million) and R. Creigh Deeds ($11 million) in 2009, Tim Kaine ($14 million) and Jerry Kilgore ($15 million) in 2005, and Warner ($14 million) in 2001, according to VPAP, whose analysis includes money raised through the first eight months of the election year and the full year prior.

Gillespie spokesman David Abrams said the campaign will have the money it needs.

“We know that we will have the resources necessary to win in November so he can enact his policies to create jobs, improve schools and transportation, and make our communities safer,” he said.

Democrats say Gillespie’s fundraising reflects a lack of excitement for the candidate, who looked weak after nearly losing the June 13 primary to a provocateur styled after President Trump.

Gillespie spokesman David Abrams said the campaign will have the money it needs.

“We know that we will have the resources necessary to win in November so he can enact his policies to create jobs, improve schools and transportation, and make our communities safer,” he said.

Democrats say Gillespie’s fundraising reflects a lack of excitement for the candidate, who looked weak after nearly losing the June 13 primary to a provocateur styled after President Trump.

“Ed Gillespie’s fundraising mirrors the enthusiasm for his campaign: lackluster,” said Northam campaign spokeswoman Ofirah Yheskel.

Republicans say the picture is more complicated, given that several previous contenders already held public office and were able to transfer large sums from campaign accounts launched years earlier.

The latest stories and details on the 2017 Virginia general election and race for governor.

Some also say that Gillespie’s big money advantage coming out of the June GOP primary — he had about twice as much on hand as Northam, who spent far more heavily fighting off his challenger — might have caused donors to hold off. Northam flipped the cash advantage over the summer, with twice as much money on hand as Gillespie heading into September.

Many donors have been slow to tune in to Northam-Gillespie after last year’s tumultuous presidential elections, said Kilgore, a former state attorney general and the current finance chairman for the state GOP. He expects that to change, given polls showing a neck-and-neck contest.

“I just think people were checked out — they had protests, election fatigue,” Kilgore said. “They’re watching federal issues, and now all of a sudden they realize there’s a race. . . . I think the money will be there for Ed for sure, particularly since it’s a dead-even race. My God, everybody’s going to step up now.”

Still, even some Republicans say the lagging donations reflect doubt about Gillespie’s prospects amid the head winds of a deeply unpopular president and a GOP losing streak in statewide contests that began after McDonnell won the governor’s mansion in 2009.

“You look at the numbers, you’re going to say, ‘It’s blue. It’s New Jersey. It’s gone,’ ” conservative radio host John Fredericks said. “That’s one of the problems when you lose seven statewide races in a row. . . . That has nothing to do with Ed. It’s, ‘Why should I give money to Virginia?’ ”

Northam has been able to use his resources to spend nearly twice as much as Gillespie on broadcast television advertising in September, according to VPAP.

As one of just two governor’s races in the country, the Virginia contest is widely seen as a referendum on Trump and a hint of what’s to come in next year’s midterm congressional elections.

“Part of it’s because the Democratic base is just very incensed right now,” said former congressman Tom Davis, a moderate Northern Virginia Republican. “They’re angry and incensed and opening their wallets more than the despondent Republican base. . . . He’s running with an unpopular president and a popular Democratic governor — against a Democrat who doesn’t have any flies on him. This is not a scandal-prone Democrat, so we’ll see.”

Read the full report from The Washington Post.

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