Keever’s made small donors her campaign’s linchpin. Can the strategy work?

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According to Federal Election Commission records, Patsy Keever’s campaign for North Carolina’s 10th Congressional District seat has relied on small donations from individuals, but has received little support from political action committees, or PACs, in her bid to unseat four-term incumbent U.S. Rep. Patrick McHenry in the Republican-leaning district.

According to the FEC’s Campaign Finance Disclosure Portal, the Keever campaign raised a total of $495,122 through Oct. 17. That’s less than half the amount raised by McHenry’s campaign, according to the latest records available. Go here for information on who is funding Keever’s campaign. (Information will be updated as candidates’ filings are released.)

That, experts say, may not be enough to win.

While money doesn’t necessarily guarantee victory in a congressional election, it is critical, said Phillip Ardoin, associate professor of American political institutions in the Department of Government and Justice Studies at Appalachian State University.

“Clearly, the more money you have, the easier it is to share your message and mobilize your voters,” Ardoin said.

McHenry’s coffers more than double Keever’s

In comparison, the McHenry campaign has raised nearly $1.2 million in this election, as of reports filed Oct. 17, the most recent ones available.

According to FEC records, more than $600,000 of those funds is from political action committees, many of which are based outside of North Carolina and connected to the financial industry.

He serves on the House Committee on Financial Services, which drafts and reviews all federal legislation involving the banking and financial services industry, including insurance companies, banks, credit unions, as well as legislation that relates to monetary policy, investment, and the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.

Go here for further details on who is funding McHenry’s campaign. (Information will be updated as candidates’ filings are released.)

His bankroll may be more money that the campaign needs to retain his congressional office, Ardoin said. McHenry has given nearly $125,000 of his total campaign receipts to the National Republican Congressional Committee, local Republican parties and other campaigns.

“By giving some of his excess funds to other candidates and the Party, he builds loyalty,” Ardoin said.

$20, $50, $100 at a time, with little PAC support

According to FEC records, Keever has raised more than 70 percent of her campaign funds from individual contributors.

“Our focus has been on connecting with people who actually live in the 10th District, thus that’s where the vast majority of our contributions have come from,” explained Keever campaign manager Bruce Mulkey in an email, who added that they have also received support from donors in Asheville who live in the 11th Congressional District.

And small donors comprise a large amount of her contributions.

Forty percent of her total contributions were individual donations less than $200 and listed as unitemized contributions. While the public can’t track those donors’ names or where they live, Brent Laurenz of the N.C. Center for Voter Education said that may not matter.

“If someone gives $25, are voters really served by knowing who that person is?” he said. “The public concern is when someone maxes out their donations.”

Instead, voters and political observers often point to PAC contributions as the signifier of potential influence on a candidate.

Those contribution levels, too, provide a stark contrast to the McHenry’s campaign, with PACs giving less than $24,000 to Keever’s election bid.

The amount could indicate the confidence those groups have in a Democrat’s win in the district. Ardoin said that corporations, banks and other organizations are more likely to give money to the candidate they think has the best chance of winning.

Mulkey said it signifies something else.

“The campaign has received very little PAC money because of Patsy’s governing philosophy of putting people (first), not special interests or big corporations,” he said.

Experts, staff: Campaign faced redistricting, large primary challenges

Observers and even Keever’s own campaign staff point to some of the challenges she has faced in mounting a bid for the 10th District.

Last July, the N.C. General Assembly proposed a redrawn map of the state’s 13 congressional districts. Now, Buncombe County is divided into two districts: the eastern portion of the county in the 10th, while the western portion remains in the 11th District. While the 10th now includes a portion of the Democratic-leaning city of Asheville, the new congressional districts may still favor Republicans in the strongly red 10th District.

In the 2008 presidential election, 63 percent of the voters in the former 10th District selected McCain. In 2004, 67 percent chose Bush. Those figures suggest that the 10th District is among the most Republican districts in the state.

The redrawing of lines may have had an impact on Keever’s ability to raise funds as the underdog, Laurenz of the N.C. Center for Voter Education said.

“This is one of the effects we see from redistricting,” Laurenz said. “We get races that aren’t competitive and a detriment to giving money and support.”

The Keever campaign said that fulfilling her duties as a Buncombe County representative to the state House had an impact on her ability to raise funds, as did mounting a challenge in a tough primary, where Keever faced Asheville Mayor Terry Bellamy and Rutherfordton resident Timothy Murphy. Keever won the primary with 58 percent of the vote.

“We had a major primary challenge, we spent more early than we’d have preferred,” Mulkey said by email. “We decided in mid-summer that more experienced fundraisers would be essential to be competitive in this race. Ideally, we’d have raised as much as our opponent, however, we will have the funds necessary to get our message out and let voters know who Patsy is and what she stands for.”

While it varies from district to district, Ardoin estimated that raising a minimum of $700,000 in a congressional district against an incumbent, such as the 10th, is necessary to be competitive.

“That’s why we see incumbent reelection rates (in congressional districts) above 95 percent,” he said. “Incumbents have a tremendous advantage with regard to fundraising. Corporations will be hesitant to give a challenger money since the incumbent is typically the better bet.”

Laurenz agreed: “It’s harder if you are a challenger to be on equal footing. A lot of folks will see that candidate ‘X’ doesn’t have much of a shot, so is it worth the investment? You are more likely to contribute if deep down you think you can win.”

While the odds might be small, a Keever upset is not out of the question, Ardoin said. And even if she loses the election, he said, her campaign is not in vain and may be part of a long-term strategy.

“It makes sense to stay in the race since it forces McHenry to spend money to hold his seat,” Ardoin said. “It also gets her name out and gives her regional name recognition for running at a state-level race. If something happens to McHenry or if the tides turn in the next two to four years, she is the known candidate for 2014 or 2016.”


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Jack Igelman

Jack Igelman is a contributing reporter with Carolina Public Press. Contact him at jack@igelman.com.

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