The Northern Virginia Daily's Political Depot

A service for our readers outside the Northern Shenandoah Valley... a sampling of The Daily's political coverage, plus unofficial, 'reporter's notebook' stuff. And occasional dry humor...

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Location: Strasburg, Virginia

Friday, July 22, 2005

Potts’ pot of dough dwindles; A1

By Garren Shipley
Daily Staff Writer

WINCHESTER — If “Operation Upset” is to succeed, it’s going to need a major infusion of cash, and soon.

But officials overseeing the independent gubernatorial campaign of state Sen. H. Russell Potts say the IV has already been started.

At the end of June, Potts, R-Winchester, had raised just over $448,000 and spent $326,291, leaving him with $135,396 in the bank. The campaign is also spending money faster than it’s coming in — laying out about $50,000 more than it got in donations in June.

At that rate, the campaign would be out of useful funds sometime near the beginning of October.

Potts also closed out his Vision for Virginia ex-ploratory political action committee in June after transferring all of its remaining $305,395 into the campaign.

His Senate committee hasn’t yet contributed to his gubernatorial campaign, but it’s almost empty as well. The fund had just under $2,000 when the campaign filed its report for the first half of 2005.

“Am I worried about money? Absolutely,” said Tom D’Amore, Potts’ top consultant. “Everybody’s always worried about raising enough money in a campaign.”

The big hurdle was getting Potts on the ballot. But once that happened, supporters felt more secure in opening up their wallets.

“We didn’t start serious fundraising until about three or four weeks ago,” D’Amore said. The campaign has just hired a full-time professional fundraiser, and the cash is flowing in rapidly. D’Amore said the campaign has had one $100,000 donation, among other sizable contributions.

“Our fundraising has picked up, and that’s not BS,” he said.

Vision for Virginia was folded as a matter of state law, he added. Once the “exploring” is done and a candidate is in the race, exploratory PACs have to close up shop.

The real question isn’t whether or not Potts for Governor will fold up shop. That’s not going to happen, D’Amore said. Rather, what kind of media buying will they be able to do?

Regardless, “we’re not in this race to be a spoiler,” said Potts’ political director, Adam Piper.

Potts’ July finance report was a bit of a surprise to observers.

“I think people have been surprised that he’s raised so little,” said Larry Sabato, a political analyst at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville.

It’s possible that Potts may not be getting more donations because he hasn’t spent enough money, according to some campaign observers.

“There are two things you can do if you have money, one you can save it, two, you can burn it and hope it gets you more,” said Craig Brians, a professor of political science at Virginia Tech.

For a candidate to burn through all his cash early isn’t necessarily a bad thing, provided it buys the kind of visibility that donors like to see. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., employed a similar strategy in 2000 and it paid off, giving the candidate enough money to contest the Republican nomination for president.

The Winchester senator isn’t unarmed in the war for donors and votes.

Potts has retained Minnesota-based North Woods Advertising, the unorthodox creative team behind Gov. Jesse Ventura’s 1998 Reform Party win. President and CEO Bill Hillsman’s team also worked on Ralph Nader’s 2000 presidential run, as well as the 1990 campaign of the late Sen. Paul Wellstone.

Good ad firms don’t come cheap. Potts has paid North Woods $52,835 to manage his broadcast and Internet presence. The campaign has been paying out a monthly retainer of roughly $10,000.

D’Amore and his company have been paid more than $119,000 for strategy and management. But that’s still a bargain compared to what the other two candidates have been shelling out.

Kilgore has paid $1.13 million to Scott Howell and Co., the group behind Bush-Cheney 2004’s media campaign, as well as a number of recent successful GOP bids for the Senate.

Kaine’s camp has written checks for more than $1 million to Media Strategies and Services in Fairfax.

They’ve also spent tens of thousands with Struble-Eichenbaum, the media firm behind the successful campaigns of Sens. Mary Landrieu, D-La., Mark Pryor, D-Ark., and Tim Johnson, D-S.D.

Potts’ media expenditures to date haven’t been chump change, but in a statewide race, a candidate needs money behind those initial dollars to keep the name-recognition wagon rolling.

If the ads that cash bought are just targeted at winning voters, it’ll be hard to stay in the race, because donors want to see their man in action, Brians said.

“If those supporters start to think that their contender isn’t in it anymore … they’ll still vote for you, but they may not give you any more money,” he said.

Election Day is Nov. 8.