It’s tough to knock an incumbent out of office. Add millions in fundraising prowess and the incumbent becomes even more unshakeable.
On Monday, campaign finance reports showed Gov. Scott Walker had raised $13 million in the most recent campaign filing period from Jan. 18 to April 23, bringing the total amount raised by the governor to roughly $25 million since the beginning of his term.
The amount shatters the state fundraising record that was set by Walker when he raised roughly $11 million while running for the November 2010 election.
“Financial advantage is the single best indicator of who wins an election. Incumbents usually win, but the financial advantage is an even more powerful indicator,” says Mike McCabe, executive director of Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, a watchdog group that tracks campaign spending for state races. “He has the strongest cards in his hand.”
So how do Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett and former Dane County Executive Kathleen Falk, the top two contenders competing in the four-way Democratic primary race, plan to overcome Walker’s advantages should they win Tuesday?
Both camps are relying on voters to cast their ballots based on Walker’s record, not the content of the ads they see on TV.
Barrett’s campaign spokesman, Phil Walzak, says no amount of money is going to hide Walker’s record-breaking cuts to education, his attack on women’s health care, and the fact that Wisconsin trailed the rest of the country in job growth last year.
“He’s not going to rewrite history,” Walzak says. “The voters will see that the reality won’t match the Scott Walker ads they are seeing on TV.”
The grass-roots nature of the recall election, which was triggered after more than 900,000 people signed petitions in 60 days, shows the people-powered nature of the election. Falk says that same grass-roots effort is now behind her campaign against Walker.
“My campaign has built the broad coalition of grass-roots support of working men and women, environmentalists, women's rights advocates, young progressives and community organizers it will take to beat him and end his war on women,” Falk says.
One potential bright spot for his challengers amid the news of Walker’s ability to break fundraising records is that he already has spent $21 million of it, leaving him with $4 million on hand. But as McCabe points out, Walker still has five weeks before the June 5 election to spend and raise money.
“I don’t think you’ll see another report for another $13 million raised (in a single filing period), but he will continue to travel out of state and raise millions,” McCabe says. “He’ll be pretty close to tripling the $11 million he raised during his last race for governor.”
In comparison to Walker’s $4 million cash on hand and counting, Barrett has about $457,500 on hand and Falk has $118,000 on hand.
Notably, the $21 million spent by Walker’s campaign appears to have had little impact on his polling numbers, which have hovered around 50 percent for months.
“He has spent a boatload (of money) already and has failed to move the public opinion needle,” McCabe says.
Falk sees the minimal movement in Walker’s polling numbers as a sign that voters aren’t changing their opinion of him, despite the ads.
“No amount of money can buy back trust, once it’s lost,” she says.