RALEIGH, N.C. (WGHP) – Some of the candidates for governor in North Carolina are touting their quarterly fundraising reports as huge successes.
Certainly the total dollars invested in the perceived front-runners – Democrat Josh Stein and Republican Mark Robinson – are significant, but it’s the money such reports don’t show – super PACs – that might really be the key to who wins in November 2024, much as it was in North Carolina’s 2022 race for the U.S. Senate.
Here’s what the candidates are saying about the dollars they’ve collected:
- Stein, the sitting attorney general and so-far only Democrat in the field, reported in a release by his campaign as having received $5.98 million in the first six months of the year and having $8.2 million cash on hand.
- Robinson, the lieutenant governor in his second political campaign, posted on Twitter on Monday night that he had raised $2.2 million and had $3.2 on hand. The post says this is a record for a Republican candidate for governor.
- Mark Walker, a 3-term GOP representative for the 6th Congressional District, touted on Twitter on Monday as having brought in $550,000 since he announced his candidacy in May, which he said surpassed his goal by $50,000.
- Dale Folwell, the Republican state treasurer, has not posted any early reports about his fundraising and didn’t respond immediately to a query about it. But he had some money starting the year because of his electoral history.
- Neither of the Libertarians who have announced campaigns – former candidate Shannon Bray and newcomer Michael Ross – has posted any fundraising, although Bray has filed initial paperwork with the North Carolina Board of Elections.
None of this is “official.” The detailed fundraising reports for the period from Jan. 1 through June 30 – listing individual donations, large and small – aren’t required to be filed with the NCSBE until July 28, and then we won’t hear more until January. Each candidate has filed the paperwork to establish a campaign committee, though.
Eric Heberlig, a professor at UNC Charlotte and expert on campaign finance, wrote in an emailed response to questions from WGHP that the “$6 million for Stein is a strong amount for any quarter.”
He said the key for any candidate is knowing how those dollars break down among individual donors, large individual donors and PACs.
“Given his [Stein’s] aggregate, I suspect he is getting a healthy amount from all three of those sources which is an indicator that he is putting together a broad coalition,” Heberlig wrote. “As the only competitive Democrat, he should be raising $ from all sectors of the party, and it’s a big red flag for his campaign if he isn't.”
Stein’s campaign release says that 75% of the contributions are $100 or less and that 89% are from North Carolina.
“They are fueling our fight headed into 2024, and we could not be more grateful for their unprecedented support,” Jeff Allen, Stein’s campaign manager, said in the release.
Robinson’s post on Twitter said that he has 22,000 individual contributions but offers no more specificity.
“He has raised more money and has more cash on hand this period than any Republican who has ever run for Governor in North Carolina,” the post noted. “We know that Stein and the liberal Democrats are going to raise a TON of money, but with your help, we will continue to post record numbers and have the strongest fundraising operation of any Republican Governor candidate in NC history!”
Heberlig says the sources are important for deciphering meaning. “And having Folwell's numbers would help to see what's going on. I'd expect Robinson to do well with small donors and Folwell to do well with traditional business PACs.
“So if Robinson is picking up lots of support from business PACs and/or Folwell is picking up lots of support from small donors, that is a good sign that they are expanding beyond their natural donor base.”
Walker is ahead of his goal
Walker touted raising $550,000 in the first five weeks since his campaign announcement in Kernersville.
In a post on his Twitter account, Walker wrote: “Thank you, North Carolina, for your prayers and support. We’re sending a message today that North Carolinians will choose the next Governor, not the entrenched establishment.”
The post said that “94% of the contributions” were “from North Carolinians.”
Heberlig said that “Walker's situation is that he is the least-known of the three statewide, so he is in greater need of $ to boost his name recognition and profile. If he has the least amount of $ and no super PAC allies, it's hard to do that.”
Walker, a native of Greensboro, finished third behind Rep. Ted Budd and former Gov. Pat McCrory in a crowded primary field for the Senate in 2022, after having briefly considered – at the request of former President Donald Trump – a bid to return to Congress, albeit in a different district.
The bigger picture
The race has been called a toss-up by some experts, and Stein and Robinson have been about even in most early polls, although Robinson has a significant edge over both Walker and Folwell. The decisive factors for voters could come down to simple party affiliation, experts have said.
Robinson, serving in his first and only elected office, became famous for preaching to a mass of gun owners at a Greensboro City Council meeting in a social media video gone viral in 2018. He has a long record of outrageous comments in speeches and social media that have made him a focal point for scorn for his brash approach to a variety of societal topics, including the LGBTQ community, gun rights, abortion rights, climate change and public education, to name a few.
Both Walker, who served three terms in Congress, and Folwell, who was in the General Assembly before being elected treasurer in 2017, said they entered the race because they want Republicans to have a choice in a bid to succeed Gov. Roy Cooper and become the fourth Republican to serve as governor.
“I’ve been asked, quite frankly, to look at the race for governor,” Morgan told The News & Observer in Raleigh. “And while I highly respect the declared candidate for the Democratic nomination for governor, I feel inclined to respect the calls that I’m getting.”
All of that could fuel significant outside money that manifests in the form of television and digital advertising. In 2022, Democratic super PACs invested heavily in Cheri Beasley’s unsuccessful race against Budd, who is a darling of Club for Growth’s millions.
A barometer might be the ongoing race for governor in Kentucky. A popular Democratic incumbent, Andy Beshear, is facing Attorney General Daniel Cameron, who came from Sen. Mitch McConnell’s staff but also has been endorsed by Trump. Spending in that race has increased dramatically.
“You raise an important point about potential SuperPAC spending,” Heberlig wrote. “On the one hand, their ability to dump millions into the campaign makes the candidate's aggregate numbers less meaningful than they used to be.
“If you have a SuperPAC advocating for you, you need to raise less $ to get your message out. However, candidate $ becomes critical if your opponent's SuperPACs are spending more than your allied SuperPACs. The candidate's $ is necessary to offset the attacks coming from their opponent's SuperPAC.”