By Sarah Watson
Two weeks before the June 5 primary, campaign-disclosure reports show that the six Democratic contenders for the gubernatorial nomination have emptied their campaign coffers in the last six months.
However, Republican incumbent Gov. Kim Reynolds, who doesn’t face a challenger in the primary, will start the general-election campaign with a significant nest egg — approximately $4 million. This could leave a gap to close for the Democratic nominee, who could be chosen in the June 5 primary.
By comparison, none of the Democratic candidates had more than $250,000 on hand by the end of the disclosure period. That period was Jan. 1 through May 14. Reports were due online on the afternoon of May 21.
Combined with numbers from 2017, the money candidates have spent in the gubernatorial race top $12 million, and candidates have raised more than $17 million.
With six candidates competing for the Democratic nomination, 2017-18 has been a record-breaking year in terms of dollars raised.
For this reporting period in 2018, gubernatorial candidates have raised approximately $6 million collectively. Retired businessman Fred Hubbell led the field with $3 million, most of which was self-funded. Following him were union leader Cathy Glasson with $593,340.07 raised largely from a single union donation, state Sen. Nate Boulton with $500,000, which stems also from union support, physician Andy McGuire at $273,489, former state and federal official John Norris at $235,057.46, and former Iowa City Mayor Ross Wilburn at $6,441.99.
In 2017, nearly $11 million was raised by the gubernatorial candidates, shattering the previous record of money raised the year before an election, $5 million in 2005.
Money raised is significant in the primary because a high amount of statewide donations can signal who has the most public support, and it shows who has the resources to go up against a money-laden Republican incumbent in November, University of Iowa political-science Professor Frederick Boehmke said.
But financial robustness isn’t always a signal of who wins or loses an election, he noted.
“Lots of wealthy candidates — or wealthy campaigns — have lost because they didn’t connect with voters,” Boehmke said.
Turning to polling numbers, Hubbell’s wealth and early TV advertising may have given him a leg up, as shown by his current lead in the polls. However, he may not have enough support yet to decisively win the primary.
Hubbell led the Democratic field in the Iowa Poll released in May, conducted by The Des Moines Register and Mediacom. The poll showed 31 percent of likely Democratic primary voters would have supported him if the election had been held at the time of response. Boulton trailed Hubbell with 20 percent of respondents saying they would support him. More than half of respondents said they didn’t know enough about Democratic challengers Glasson, Norris, McGuire, and Wilburn to make a decision.
Despite Hubbell’s lead, he may not have enough support yet to win the nomination. On June 5, he will have to win 35 percent of the vote to take the spot. According to the Iowa Poll, he’s sitting on the bubble of that margin, with about three-quarters of respondents said they could still be persuaded on a candidate before the primary.
An earlier poll found Hubbell led Boulton by more than 25 percentage points, 46 percent to 20 percent. The rest of the Democratic field trailed Boulton.
When Democratic candidates were matched with Reynolds in a February poll, however, she led all the Democratics in one-on-one matchups.
Being the governor, she has the advantage of repeated press coverage for name recognition, Boehmke said. Because of this, he said, challengers usually have an uphill battle to gain name recognition when facing incumbents.
“The challenger has to get that narrative out there, and having money facilitates that process,” he said.
Despite Reynolds having a financial advantage going into the general-election campaign, the Democratic nominee has June through October to restock funds, said Louis Jacobsen, a columnist for Governing magazine, writing about state politics and handicapping the governor race.
“The support right now is spread out among six candidates. Once that gets concentrated into a particular candidate, they can catch up,” Jacobsen said. “What’s more important is if they have enough [funds] to compete.”
Hubbell has also been the only Democratic challenger to air TV ads in the Davenport and Sioux City television markets. Other candidates for the nomination have aired ads in Des Moines and Cedar Rapids areas. Campaign officials have said that’s because the stations broadcast to the vast majority of Iowa residences.
“We are already going toe-to-toe with Reynolds to hit the ground running in the first day of the general [election],” Hubbell communications director Remi Yamamoto said in an email to The Daily Iowan in April talking about advertisement funding.