Today you get a second column from me. This week’s campaign finance reports call for some analysis. Keep up with our political coverage by signing up for our free daily email newsletter and our new weekly political newsletter, West of the Capital.
The great philosopher Randy Newman once told us that “It’s Money That Matters.”
When it comes to politics, I’ve always disputed that – which sometimes surprises people because the common misperception is that money rules all in politics. To be sure, money does matter. But it’s not the only thing that matters.
I’ve seen lots of candidates with the most money lose and lots of candidates with the least amout of money win. Candidates matter, issues matter, the politics of the district matter. What does matter is that a candidate needs a sufficient amount of money to get his or her message out – without that, a candidate certainly won’t win.
All that is a necessary cavaet before we dive into the campaign finance reports that came out this week for General Assembly candidates – the first such report of the year. I strongly caution readers not to look at these figures and conclude that “oh, this is candidate has the most money, that means they’re going to win.” However, we can look at these reports and conclude which candidates are running serious campaigns – whether those campaigns win or lose is a completely different matter, one that that voters will have a say in, either in upcoming party conventions or the June 20 primary. With that caution, let’s dive into the contested nominations in this part of the state.
Williams has 21-1 money advantage over March
The biggest surprise is the imbalance in funding between Del. Wren Williams, R-Patrick County, and Del. Marie March, R-Floyd County, who are locked in a primary battle (or perhaps a Blue Ridge Cage Match) under new district lines.
Figures posted on the Virginia Public Access Project show that March began the year with $15,965 but is now down to just $3,321 cash on hand as of March 31.
By contrast, Williams began the year with $21,755 but now has $69,763 on hand. That’s a 21-to-1 advantage of cash on hand as the candidates headed into the month before early voting for the June 20 primary begins May 5.
March’s total fundraising during the first three months of the year was $3,847, while Williams raised $76,787. That’s 19.9 times more than March.
I’m shocked on several levels. VPAP shows only two other incumbents with so little cash on hand – Del. Nick Freitas, R-Culpeper County, has just $1,388 and Del. A.C. Cordoza, R-Hampton, has just $1,772, although neither of them faces a primary challenge and Freitas has the double advantage of living in a strongly Republican district. Most incumbents have cash on hand measured in five figures or six figures. Del. Barry Knight, R-Virginia Beach, has a cash supply of seven figures – $1,025,580. When you’re the chairman of the budget-writing House Appropriations Committee, lots of people want to give you money.
For further comparison, there are longshot candidates in non-competitive districts who have raised more money than March. Democrat Sara Ratcliffe is running in a 66% Republican district in Culpeper, Greene, Madison and Orange counties and she’s got $4,980 in the bank.
All this could change suddenly – some national group could decide to drop lots of money into the district on behalf of March – but the current reality is that Williams has a huge money advantage. Also of note: His biggest donation during the period was $16,000 from the Virginia Hospital and Healthcare Association’s political action committee. That caught my eye because Williams isn’t on any health-related committee, while March is – as a member of the House Health, Welfare and Institutions Committee. Typically incumbents get donations from groups interested in their committee assignments but that’s not happening with March. Her biggest donation was $1,000 from American Electric Power, which came in on the last day of the reporting period. I had always assumed that this would be a strongly competitive race, and it might yet be, but March’s lack of fundraising does make me wonder. By contrast, during her 2021 campaign she raised $177,759.
Wright faces a serious primary challenge
Once again, money isn’t all that matters. But it does seem significant that Farmville attorney John Marsden, who is challenging Del. Tommy Wright, R-Lunenburg County, has raised more money. Marsden has $66,427 cash on hand, Wright $55,491. Of note: $50,000 of Marsden’s $66,427 comes from a single donor – Moore Properties. Still, it would seem from a distance that Marsden will be able to run a competitive race in the June 20 primary.
Something else to keep in mind here: The district has changed so much that about half the voters in the district are new to Wright, so his incumbency may not matter that much to the “new” voters he’ll be appealing to in Prince Edward County, Halifax County and Charlotte County. Together, they account for 48% of the voters in the district. The district also added parts of Mecklenburg, so most of the voters here are new to Wright.
Davis outraises Jefferson
Will Davis and Ron Jefferson are squaring off in the Republican primary for a House of Delegates nomination in a strongly Republican district that covers Franklin County and part of Roanoke County. Davis has a hefty advantage financially: He’s outraised Jefferson $92,970 to $42,080. In terms of what’s left, Davis has $52,870 cash on hand, Jefferson $19,388.
Bowman self-funds to have slight money advantage over Obenshain
Updated, April 19, 11:50 a.m. Here’s another one that surprises me. In the House district that covers part of Roanoke County and Montgomery County, Lowell Bowman and Chris Obenshain are competing for the Republican nomination in a May 4 convention. I thought Obenshain, given his family connections, would have a financial advantage, but he doesn’t. For the period, Bowman outraised Obenshain $41,698 to $31,647. Out-raised, though, may not be the right term: $40,000 of Bowman’s $41,698 has come from himself so if you think of terms raising money from other people, Obenshain would be far ahead. Still, the bottom line is the bottom line: In terms of cash on hand, the two are essentially tied: Bowman has $31,455, Obenshain $30,255.
The winner will face Democrat Lily Franklin in a potentially competitive district that tilts Republican. She’s raised $65,255 and has $58,228 cash on hand. Her treasury was aided by $20,000 from Clean Virginia. Once again, money doesn’t win elections, but Franklin’s haul in a district that voted 55% Republican two years ago is impressive for a Democratic candidate. This suggests that she will be able to run a serious campaign in the fall.
Ballard has huge financial advantage over Pyles
Del. Jason Ballard, R-Giles County, faces a challenge from Jody Pyles, a former aide to state Sen. Amanda Chase, R-Chesterfield County. Who knows what will happen in their June 3 convention but, financially speaking, Ballard has a big financial lead. In the interest of brevity, we’ll just skip straight to the bottom line. Ballard has $52,398 in hand, Pyles just $1,168. Ballard also has the endorsement of Gov. Glenn Youngkin. You’d think between that and the money advantage he’d have this well in hand but conventions are unpredictable.
Bailey self-funds campaign against Garrett and Wood
One of the most contentious races in this part of the state is the three-way Republican contest for a House nomination in a district that runs from Appomattox County to Goochland County. Kevin Bailey has raised the most – $45,960, compared to $11,884 for Jennie Wood and $7,738 for former U.S. Rep. Tom Garrett. We’d have expected a former congressman to have more. These numbers are somewhat misleading, because Bailey’s campaign is mostly self-funded – he’s given $34,000 of that $45,960. Still, it’s money to spend on reaching voters. Interestingly, Wood has the most cash on hand – $8,832 to $4,743 for Bailey and $3,221 for Garrett. Bailey supporters should hope that he’s spent his money wisely. We’ll find out at the convention on May 20.
Mays outpaces Griffin with self-funding
Here’s another open-seat district that votes strongly Republican: Tim Griffin and Sarah Mays are competing for the Republican nomination in a House district that runs from Bedford County to Nelson County. She’s raised the most – $14,968 to $8,881 – and still has the most – $6,218 to $4,737. For what it’s worth, virtually all of Mays’ campaign funds come from herself: $14,500 of that $14,968. Griffin’s biggest donor is himself, but not to the same degree – $3,930 of his $8,881. That contest will be decided in a May 6 convention.
Deeds outraises Hudson
Turning now to the state Senate, the most competitive race in this part of the state is the Democratic nomination in the district that runs from Albemarle County to Amherst County where state Sen. Creigh Deeds, D-Charlottesville, faces Del. Sally Hudson, also D-Charlottesville. Deeds has raised more and has more cash on hand. For the period, he raised $239,181 to her $85,823 and ends with $422,902 to her $139,383. This is also one of those races where things other than money may come into play. He stresses his experience; she’s called for “generational change.” She’s suggested he’s insufficiently liberal; he’s positioned himself as the more practical candidate. We’ll have to see how all that plays with Democrats in the district.
Brewer outraises Sadler but Sadler has cash advantage
Del. Emily Brewer, R-Suffolk, and former NASCAR driver Hermie Sadler are both seeking the Republican nomination in what is likely a competitive state Senate district that runs from Dinwiddie County to Portsmouth. During the period, she raised the most money: $202,392 to $99,290 for Sadler. But he’s got the most cash on hand: $221,922 to her $150,648 as they head toward a June 20 primary. The winner of the June 20 primary will face Del. Clint Jenkins, D-Suffolk, who so far has just $20,174.
McGuire raises the most but Dyer has the most cash on hand (barely)
Republicans have a four-way contest for a state Senate nomination that runs from Appomattox County to Hanover County. Del. John McGuire, R-Goochland County, who is trying to move form the House to the Senate, has raised the most money this year but Jack Dyer has a slight cash on hand advantage as the candidates headed into the final month before the May 6 convention. In terms of cash on hand: Dyer has $111,740, McGuire has $106,430, Duane Adams has $59,495 and Sandy Brindley has $23,155. McGuire does have something else that’s hard to measure in dollar value — the endorsement of the governor.
White-Boyd outraises Priddy and Pierce combined
Three Democrats are seeking the Democratic nomination for the state Senate in the district that covers Roanoke, Salem, and parts of Roanoke County and Montgomery County. Trish White-Boyd has raised the most money and still has the most. She has $11,095 cash in hand compared to $4,586 for Luke Priddy and $205 for DeAnthony “DA” Pierce. The winner of the June 20 primary will face state Sen. David Suetterlein, R-Roanoke County, who right now is sitting on $237,936.
If all this campaign spending leaves you ill, I will take the liberty of offering a remedy: You can donate to us and help support more journalism so we can cover all these campaigns.