When Republican Jim Rubens ran for the state Senate in 2000, losing to Democrat Cliff Below, political observers were taken aback by the rising cost of a campaign for Senate in New Hampshire.
“To my knowledge, that was the first race that broke $100,000, and people were shocked at the amount of spending,” said a long-time Senate staffer. “And 10 years later, it became pretty commonplace.”
For the past decade, Senate candidates in contested races have spent between $80,000 to $100,000 to win a job that pays $100 a year, plus mileage. This year could see the state break the $100,000 mark in some hotly contested races.
“With the state Senate being controlled by such a thin majority, all parties and all candidates are really going to crank up their fund-raising efforts,” said political strategist Periklis Karoutas, who managed Bill Binnie’s campaign for U.S. Senate and is currently serving as an advisor to Republican Sen. Jeb Bradley in his re-election campaign.
“These are going to be some very expensive races and some very hard-fought races,” he said. “There are going to be candidates spending in excess of $100,000.”
Most of that money comes from fund-raising, not from the personal assets of the candidates. The fund-raising that takes place is not much different from what happens in a campaign for U.S. Senate or House, except the numbers are much smaller, said Karoutas.
While campaigns for statewide office are dominated by television advertising, most of the money in state Senate races is spent on radio and print advertising within the senate district, with a heavy investment in direct mail pieces.
“Just like any campaign, candidates have their supporters and people from around the state or district who donate money to support the candidates they believe in,” Karoutas said. “There are also a lot of trade associations, lobbyists and folks like that who contribute to senate candidates, as well as people from the business community.”
That’s one of the things that makes it difficult to recruit qualified Senate candidates. The threshold for a House race is much lower, in terms of money and time. Senate candidates vying for open seats need to invest heavily in fund-raising and campaigning across a broad geography.
Spending by unaffiliated, third-party groups, long a fact of life in statewide campaigns, is finding its way into state Senate races. Citizens for a Strong New Hampshire last week launched a radio campaign targeting three incumbent Republican senators with very expensive ad buys during the key drive-time slots, and the campaign filing period has not even closed yet.
Technology is also driving up costs, with third-party groups playing a major role.
“We’ll be investing significantly,” said Aaron Day, chair of the Republican Liberty Caucus of New Hampshire, which is not affiliated with the state Republican Party.
“You will see us taking a lead in the online portion of this in terms of website and Internet contact, and building a grassroots infrastructure,” he said. “Our impact is not going to be so much in direct ad spending, but in building a technology infrastructure to get candidates elected across the state.”