Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Can Eldridge Compete Without Fundraising?

Via Left in Lowell, the Lowell Sun yesterday had an article on Massachusetts Fifth District Congressional candidate and State Rep. Jamie Eldridge (D-Acton), particularly focused on his efforts to stand out from the rest of the field in that race. There was one quote from Eldridge in that article that irked me. Here it is:

"I'll admit I'm not going to raise the most money in this race, but just ask Gov. Deval Patrick about who raised the most money during that race," Eldridge said. Former gubernatorial candidate Chris Gabrieli had more money than Patrick, but lost in the primary.
Now, as someone who was involved heavily in then-candidate Patrick's campaign, Eldridge knows full well that Patrick raised more money than anyone in last year's gubernatorial contest. He broke monthly fundraising records, and he raised over eight million dollars when all was said and done. Now, Patrick never had very much cash-on-hand compared to his rivals because his campaign spent the money as fast as he raised it, but to imply that he couldn't or wouldn't raise money is untrue. Perhaps I'm being pedantic here, though, because certainly Patrick didn't have as much personal wealth to put into his campaign as did his opponents Chris Gabrieli and Kerry Healey (and for that matter, Christy Mihos) and he was underfunded compared to them. Still, to give the impression that money was not important to Patrick's eventual win is to rewrite history.

I like Rep. Eldridge. I like his politics, and perhaps just as importantly, I like the people who like him. What makes me nervous, however, is that his campaign is frequently sending out messages that imply he's not interested in fundraising. The one that sticks out most in my mind is the statement he put out after he shook up his campaign team in May, that he was "putting people ahead of money". That's a fine sentiment, but when you say that after reorganizing your campaign it makes it sound like there was an internal disagreement about fundraising and the winners decided they didn't think it was important. His message should be, as Patrick's was during his campaign, "we'll have the money we need" not "we don't need to have money."

Don't get me wrong, you certainly can win a campaign on a shoestring budget, and perhaps Eldridge will do just that. It is difficult under normal circumstances, but that difficulty is compounded in a special election that takes place over the summer. While this may guarantee a low-turnout election where field organizations can make the most difference, it also means that volunteers are harder to come by and voters are harder to reach. In addition, since the race is so-far low profile, you can't rely on free media to help get your message out. If you do, voters will learn more about your ability to play basketball than your health care proposal.

Now, Democracy for America's recent endorsement of Eldridge, has the potential to help him raise some money from national progressives. They will often email out appeals to their members, though I have not gotten anything from them yet. Eldridge is also getting strong support from unions, who can spend money on his behalf should that become necessary. And, it might be that I'm reading too much into the statements from the Eldridge camp and that their fundraising is going smoothly -- we'll find out in mid-July when the FEC quarterly reports are due.