Cash, messages are key in push for Dem primary

Published in the South Bend Tribune: April 22, 2018, Author: Jeff Parrott

See original article here.

SOUTH BEND — As the May 8 Primary Election nears, candidates are gearing up for the final push to get their names and messages out to voters.

Cash on hand typically makes that mission easier, especially for the purchase of TV ads. and in the Democratic primary for the 2nd Congressional District, Mel Hall as of March 31 had nearly $445,000 in cash, after spending was subtracted from receipts, according to the most recent campaign finance reports. That was compared to roughly $88,300 for Yatish Joshi and $25,000 for Pat Hackett. The three candidates are vying for the right to battle Republican incumbent Jackie Walorski in the fall.

Despite trailing in total cash, Hackett urged Democratic voters to take a deeper look at the numbers.

Hackett, a South Bend attorney, notes that she is the only candidate who has not self-funded any of her campaign, while Hall, a former health care CEO, and Joshi, owner of CTA Containers Inc., have lent their campaigns hundreds of thousands of dollars. If you were to remove their personal money from the discussion, $350,000 from Hall and $400,000 from Joshi, Hall would have about $82,000 in campaign cash, while Joshi would be more than $327,000 in the hole, according to the filings.

“It emphasizes the question that I have placed on the table from the beginning of my campaign and what I truly believe,” Hackett said. “A people’s campaign that’s based on voter contact and reasonable spending to get the message out is going to be successful against a campaign financed by substantial loans from a candidate, coupled with substantial spending.”

Of the three candidates, Joshi has received the least in contributions, about $10,000, while Hackett has received nearly $70,000 and Hall has received about $432,000, the filings show.

Hackett further criticized Hall for receiving nearly half of his contributions from donors outside of the district.

“That does not reflect an energized, successful campaign,” Hackett said. “When one looks at it and says, ‘Well that’s a more viable campaign because they have a lot of money to spend,’ I don’t accept that conclusion and nor should the voters be dissuaded from looking at a campaign like mine.”

Hall was not available to be interviewed Friday because of personal commitments or on Saturday because he was “actively campaigning,” his spokesman said. But Hall’s campaign manager, Max Harris, disputed Hackett’s characterization of the campaign finances.

“Whoever wins this primary on May 8 is going up against a three-term incumbent member of Congress who’s on the House Ways and Means Committee,” Harris said. “She’s going to be well-financed. We all know that. We’re going up against big corporate special-interest money, and ultimately we need someone who has shown the ability to raise the funds necessary to take her on this fall.”

Harris said Hall has received hundreds of contributions from people who live in the district, many of them giving $5 to $25.

Asked whether Hall thinks it matters that nearly half of his donors live outside the district, Harris said, “I’m not passing judgment on whether it matters or not. What I’m saying is that we have, from day one when Mel entered this race, he made it clear that his mission is to defeat Jackie Walorski. In terms of scale and sophistication of campaign, I believe we’re in a good position for May 8 as well as for November.”

Joshi was not available for comment Friday because he had a “personal event to attend to,” said his campaign manager, Araquel Bloss. Bloss said she also was not available for an interview Friday.

The cash disparities among the campaigns have yielded dramatic differences in spending.

Hall’s campaign spent nearly $335,000, Joshi spent about $318,000, and Hackett about $43,000.

Hall’s largest expenditure in the first quarter, about $95,000 to SKDKnickerbocker for video production, was more money than the $79,800 that Hackett and Joshi had raised in contributions, combined, over their campaigns.

Hall’s campaign has aired two TV commercials, while Hackett and Joshi have spent no money on TV ads, according to their filings.

Hackett said she doesn’t consider TV ads an “effective” use of resources in a campaign, and has instead spent her time on “personal contact” in “Pat chats,” meetings in supporters’ homes and public places, and she’s spent her money on brochures that she and her volunteers give to voters after speaking with them.

 Her largest expenditure in this year’s first quarter, about $5,000, went for yard signs, followed by about $4,500 for the brochures, about $2,400 for graphic design and $2,250 for campaign software.

By contrast, Hall’s second-largest expense in the quarter, about $86,000, went to “consultants,” and his campaign spent another $86,350 to pay staff.

Joshi’s largest expenditure in the quarter, about $41,000, was for payroll, followed by about $38,000 for billboards, $25,000 for digital marketing services, about $8,700 to consultants, about $7,500 for website services, about $5,575 for printing, $4,800 for a free virtual reality game night, and $3,660 for yard signs.

Marjorie Hershey, a political science professor at Indiana University, said research offers conflicting insights into how the race could unfold on May 8. On the one hand, “self-funders” historically have tended to be less likely to win elections.

“There are a lot of self-funders who don’t do a lot of personal contact and just rely on their media spending to win the race for them, and for whatever reason that tends not to work,” Hershey said.

On the other hand, primary elections tend to feature candidates who don’t differ much on the issues, which reduces voter turnout because people don’t see strong differences in the candidates. That can make name recognition more important, and that’s bolstered by TV ads.

The growing prevalence of social media has all three candidates buying ads on Facebook, which costs much less than TV ads, but TV viewers tend to be older and vote more than social media users, who tend to skew younger, Hershey said.

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