Iowa governor’s race could shatter state fundraising, spending records

The job pays $130,000, but the application costs tens of millions of dollars.

The campaign to be Iowa’s next governor is poised to become the most expensive in state history, likely surpassing – perhaps shattering – the roughly $10.6 million raised and spent in the 2014 race.

“We are going to sail over that. That’s going to seem like a drop in the bucket,” said Dave Andersen, a political science professor at Iowa State University.

And that does not include the millions more likely to be spent by advocacy groups that will work to elect one of the candidates.

Republican Terry Branstad was responsible for the vast majority of the $10.7 million raised and $10.6 million spent by the candidates in Iowa’s 2014 gubernatorial election. That year, Branstad won a sixth term by handily defeating Democrat Jack Hatch.

Those numbers figure to increase – perhaps significantly – in this year’s election.

“We’re likely to see some records broken in terms of overall spending in the governor’s race,” said Donna Hoffman, a political science professor at the University of Northern Iowa.

Kim Reynolds, the Republican candidate and successor incumbent who moved into the governor’s office last year when Branstad became U.S. ambassador to China, will face Democrat Fred Hubbell and Libertarian Jake Porter in the Nov. 6 general election.

Reynolds and Hubbell have proven they can be prolific fundraisers. Reynolds is sitting on $4 million in her campaign account, and Hubbell, a retired business executive, raised and spent nearly $7 million during the primary campaign. Hubbell’s fundraising total included $3 million of his own money. All fundraising figures are according to state records.

Interest in the election should also drive up fundraising numbers.

Branstad in 2014 was a heavy favorite from the start. While this is technically not an open-seat race, Reynolds is running for the first time as the top candidate – she was elected in 2010 and 2014 as Branstad’s running mate.

And Democrats are desperate to take back at least some measure of control at the Iowa capitol after the 2016 elections gave full state lawmaking control to Republicans.

Reynolds could match or surpass Branstad’s 2014 fundraising efforts, and Hubbell likely will obliterate Hatch’s 2014 fundraising performance, given that Hubbell raised nearly twice as much in the first eight months of his primary campaign as Hatch raised over four years of fundraising for his run.

“Reynolds might struggle to get up to $10 million. That’s a huge amount of money for Iowa. But she’ll be in that ballpark,” Andersen said. “The big question is what is Hubbell going to do. He has his own money that he can put up, and if he can show it’s going to be competitive, he is going to get donors from across the country.”

Reynolds starts the general election fundraising race with a significant head start: because she did not face a primary challenge, she was able to be judicious with her campaign spending and as of June 1 had more than $4 million in her account.

Hubbell had to exhaust his resources to win the competitive Democratic primary; as of June 1 he had just more than $100,000 in his campaign account.

But Hubbell appears unlikely to start at any great disadvantage, political experts said, in part because of his ability to self-finance if needed.

“I don’t think it’s going to be too much of a challenge for him because I think he’s shown that he can raise the money. And he’s fortunate enough he doesn’t have to wait for the money to pour in,” Andersen said. “He’s not going to be hampered like a lot of candidates would be after a competitive primary.”

And while Hubbell was trying to win the Democratic nomination, his advertising also will pay off in the general election, Hoffman said.

“He did spend a lot of money introducing himself to Democratic primary voters, but TV ads touch everybody,” Hoffman said. “He’s probably going to see some dividends on that.”

One great unknown is to what degree advocacy groups will get involved in the campaign, Andersen said. The national parties and governor’s associations may put money into the race, and conservative and liberal issue groups may also spend money on advertising.

“It’s going to be really interesting to see how much outside groups come in and dominate this contest,” Andersen said.

The most visible result of all the money that will be spent on this campaign will be the dearth of campaign advertising. And it will be on more than just television: Iowans can expect to be bombarded by online advertisements as well, Andersen said.

“Iowa is an interesting state in that it’s not very expensive to put up TV ads, but you have to hit a lot of different markets. I’m sure we’ll see a lot of TV ads this year. … I think we’re (also) going to see just pervasive campaign ads on every piece of technology we use,” Andersen said. “We’re constantly going to be aware of what these gubernatorial candidates are trying to sell us.”

The recently concluded 2018 primary election for Iowa governor had a hefty price tag: the nine candidates raised nearly $18 million and spent more than $14 million.

An avalanche of money would have to pour into this year’s gubernatorial general election before it would challenge Iowa’s open-seat U.S. Senate race in 2014, when Republican Joni Ernst and Democrat Bruce Braley combined to raise and spend more than $26 million. Another $63 million in outside spending was poured into that race, according to the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics.

This article provided by NewsEdge.