It has taken him until the homestretch, but Republican gubernatorial candidate Jeff Johnson has pulled even with DFL Gov. Mark Dayton in the money race, raising $2 million this year — as much as the incumbent.
But both men’s efforts have been outdone by independent groups. The latest campaign finance reports show that political parties and allied groups have spent $4.8 million to influence the governor’s race, with the bulk of that money aimed at defeating Johnson.
It’s the same in Minnesota House races, where candidates competing for 134 seats have spent $6.3 million, only to have interest groups spend $6.8 million.
Money has become so all-important that the fundraising never ceases, even in the final days of the campaign. Last week, Dayton brought former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to Minnesota for a fundraiser. The cash from that has yet to be fully reported to the state because it came after the close of the reporting period.
Aside from a brief visit by New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, Johnson has had to raise his money the old-fashioned way: by dialing for dollars or putting in precious personal time at fundraisers instead of retail politics.
Those efforts have paid off for the Hennepin County commissioner. Since mid-September, Johnson has raised $710,000, while Dayton raised $427,000.
But that doesn’t mean Johnson has a cash advantage over the incumbent. Over the two-year campaign period, from 2013-14, Dayton has raised $3.2 million to Johnson’s $2.2 million.
Campaign manager Katharine Tinucci said Dayton enters the final week of the campaign with enough money for “a robust advertising buy to help get out the governor’s message,”
The campaign will spend about $350,000 to air his final ad over the next week. By week’s end, the Dayton campaign will have spent as much on just ads as Johnson has raised all year — $2 million.
The ad, called “Rising,” highlights the progress Dayton believes he has brought to Minnesota and hopes to continue.
Johnson, meanwhile, can take comfort in tightening polls and surveys that show voters giving Republicans another look.
“In a midterm election, in this political environment, we like Jeff’s odds,” said Jeff Bakken, spokesman for Johnson.
Republicans are hoping that infusions of cash in key districts will tilt the odds their way in the House, as well.
“I’ve been smiling for three or four weeks now,” House Minority Leader Kurt Daudt said, as he prepared to make a door-to-door pitch on Republican House candidate Stacey Stout’s behalf. Stout is making a second attempt to beat DFL Rep. Peter Fischer in their Maplewood-White Bear Lake area District 43A, and she has gotten lots of help.
A Star Tribune analysis of data released Tuesday shows that GOP-aligned groups have spent nearly $250,000 to support Stout and unseat Fischer.
Similarly, Democratic groups have pumped $140,000 into the district, making that House race one of 10 where spending has topped $300,000.
Groups supporting DFLers and Republicans are at rough parity when it comes to House races, with each side spending a little more than $3 million.
The numbers reported on Tuesday do not include spending by political nonprofits. Those groups, which include the Republican-supporting Americans for Prosperity and the Minnesota Action Network, have spent considerable sums on races that could determine control of the House.
Nowhere has the money battle been fiercer than in St. Cloud’s District 14B, where outside groups have funneled more than $615,000 into the contest between freshman Rep. Zach Dorholt, DFL-St. Cloud, and Republican Jim Knoblach, a wealthy businessman and former legislator eager to once again represent his hometown.
But when it comes to the top of the ticket, DFLers have a clear advantage in independent spending numbers.
The lopsided spending is largely rooted in the vast resources of two groups: The Alliance for a Better Minnesota and the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party. Both have backing from labor unions and wealthy individuals, including Alida Messinger, Dayton’s former wife.
According to figures made public on Tuesday, Dayton supporters — not controlled by Dayton — have spent $4.2 million to keep him in office.
Johnson supporters have spent just $500,000 to get him there.