Posted: June 28, 2016
By Celia Cohen
Nothing concentrates the political mind like a campaign fund-raising deadline.
There is one that is days away for the candidates for Delaware's sole congressional seat, and it is turning them into desperate little Oliver Twists, begging in blast e-mails for even morsels of money for their campaign accounts. Send $150! Send $35! Send $7!
They need the money, but they need it for more than paying for polls and staff and political literature and pizza for volunteers and so forth. They need it because it is a way to rate how they stack up against one another, lest they wind up as the next Bryon Short.
Short was the low man in the competitive Democratic field when the last round of campaign finance reports were due, and and now he is an ex-candidate for congressman.
It leaves Sean Barney, Lisa Blunt Rochester and Bryan Townsend as the leading candidates for the Democrats and Hans Reigle for the Republicans. The Democrat-against-Democrat-against-Democrat contest is driving the election, which can only be expected in a state where there are 129,000 more Democratic than Republican voters.
The cutoff for contributions is midnight on Thursday, June 30, for the candidates' second-quarter reports, which must be filed by July 15 with the Federal Election Commission. After this, the candidates have just a 20-days-out report to compile before Primary Day on Sept. 13.
The candidates find themselves caught in a vicious circle. They have to have money to show they can win, but they have to show they can win for the money to come in. Barney is a prime example.
Barney, who was a candidate for state treasurer in 2014, was third in the campaign-finance standings in the Democratic field when the last reports were filed (although his campaign manager argues he got in later, so "he's raised money faster than the other candidates.")
Campaign Finance Reporting as of March 31, 2016
Source: Center for Responsive Politics, Federal Election Commission
Now Barney is circulating a memo to make the case he has polling that sees him surging ahead of the other candidates as long as he gets the money to put the word out.
It just goes to show how much money-and-winning are the chicken-and-egg of politics.
As the latest deadline for campaign contributions approaches, the candidates look like they are doubling down on their base of support.
Barney, who is backed by VoteVets, an organization promoting candidates with military experience, has made his time as a Marine a focus of his fund raising. As his memo says, "One of the key parts of his message that resonates with voters is, when he served in the Marines, no one asked if Sean was a Democrat or a Republican. They all worked together to accomplish their mission."
Rochester, who was in the Cabinet for both Tom Carper and Ruth Ann Minner when they were Democratic governors, would be the first candidate to be neither male nor white to be elected to Delaware's federal delegation.
She is running with the endorsement of the Congressional Black Caucus as well as EMILY's List, which supports pro-choice Democratic woman for high office. It is only natural she would send out an e-mail soliciting contributions like this one:
"Friend, as you may know, I've experienced a few firsts in my life. I was the first African-American to serve as Delaware secretary of Labor, Delaware deputy secretary of Health & Social Services and state personnel director. In less than four days, we face another first -- the first public FEC fund-raising deadline of the summer."
Townsend, a state senator from the Newark area, is going with the local endorsements he has received, like the ones from fellow Newark area legislators and the New Castle County Democrats, making a virtue out of them and a vice out of the national endorsements for the other candidates. As one of his solicitations reads:
"By every metric, we are winning this election. However, over the final weeks of the campaign, we expect out-of-state super PACs to attempt to influence the race. Please help us ensure that Delawareans and the voters who have so much at state in the election are the people who decide who will next represent us."
No matter what the next campaign finance reports show, they really, really matter, so there is one thing that can be counted on. All of the candidates will find a way to claim they did the best.
The highest total. The largest share of contributions coming in from Delawareans. The greatest amount in small-dollar donations. The most collected from widows with a gay daughter-in-law. Something. Anything. Whatever.