Fundraising for GOP congressional candidates in CT hits new low

Republican Clay Cope and U.S. Rep. Elizabeth Esty, D-5th District.

mark pazniokas / ctmirror.org

Republican Clay Cope and U.S. Rep. Elizabeth Esty, D-5th District. Esty went on the air Tuesday.

Updated at 9 a.m. to reflect the Shaban campaign’s purchase of television time.

Donors are shunning the five Republican campaigns for the U.S. House of Representatives in Connecticut, setting a new mark for fundraising futility that has left the GOP with little presence on television.

FCC records show the only U.S. House candidate to reserve air time on a Connecticut television station was a Democrat, U.S. Rep. Elizabeth Esty of the 5th District, who began airing a testimonial Tuesday from a Gold Star father. She enjoys an 18-1 fundraising advantage over her challenger, Clay Cope, the Republican first selectman of small-town Sherman.

But a spokesman for John T. Shaban, the Republican trying to unseat U.S. Rep. Jim Himes, D-4th, said Shaban has bought time and is running commercials on WTNH, the ABC affiliate in New Haven, and on cable television. He acknowledged, however, that GOP donors are staying on the sidelines to an unprecedented degree.

“The big thing we’re finding is a lot of folks in our neck of the woods are concerned about the Donald Trump factor,” said state Rep. Jason Perillo, who is managing Shaban’s campaign.

Collectively, the Republican congressional campaigns have raised barely $300,000 through the end of September, according to third quarter finance reports filed over the weekend, compared to $7.1 million for the five Democrats, all of whom are incumbents.

In a wealthy state where Republicans held three of the five U.S. House seats as recently as a decade ago, the 2016 campaign cycle marks a new low in GOP fundraising: For the first time since losing the 2nd and 5th Districts in 2006 and the 4th in 2008, not a single GOP challenger has broken the million-dollar mark.

In fact, no one is coming close.

“It’s not an optimal year for Republicans,” said state Sen. Scott Frantz, R-Greenwich, who wrote checks last month for $2,700 to two GOP challengers, Cope and Shaban.

The Republican with the best fundraising as of Sept. 30 was Shaban, a state representative who has raised $122,687  and spent $90,441 in the 4th District of Fairfield County.

But his fundraising is less than 10 percent of the lowest total  in previous races against Himes: The three previous GOP challengers to Himes each raised between $1.3 million and $2 million.

How GOP Challengers Fare in the 4th Congressional District
Democrat Jim Himes unseated Republican Chris Shays in 2008. Until this year, each of his challengers raised at least $1.3 million.
Year GOP Challenger Spending
2010 Dan Debicella $2 million
2012 Steve Obsitnik $1.7 million
2014 Dan Debicella $1.3 million
2016 John T. Shaban $90,441 (as of Sept. 30.)
Federal Election Commission

In the 5th District of western Connecticut, each of the last four Republican challengers also had budgets of at least $1.3 million. Mark Greenberg, the nominee two years ago, spent $2 million, largely self-funding his campaign against Esty. As of Sept. 30, Cope had raised $96,683, spent $65,211 and had $31,472 in available cash.

In the 2nd, Republican Daria Novak had raised $42,808 and had just $1,795 in cash on hand. Joe Courtney, the Democrat who unseated Republican Rob Simmons in 2006, was sitting on nearly $1 million in cash.

The 1st and 3rd Districts, centered around the Democratic cities of Hartford and New Haven, have not been competitive for the GOP in decades. Angel Cadena is trying to unseat U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-3rd District, without raising $5,000, the threshold for filing a campaign finance report.  Matthew Corey has raised $12,780 in his campaign against U.S. Rep. John B. Larson, D-1st District.

“There is a certain amount of donor fatigue,” said Richard Foley, a former state GOP chairman, noting that the GOP began the year with 17 presidential candidates. “There is only so much water in the well, and eventually you run out.”

U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, a Democrat seeking his second six-year term, has been on television for weeks. The latest campaign finance reports for Blumenthal and Republican Dan Carter were not available, but Blumenthal had raised $6.3 million by the end of June, compared to $105,517 for Carter.

The presidential campaigns of Donald J. Trump and Hillary Clinton have not reserved commercial time on any Connecticut television station, according to records on file with the Federal Communication Commission. Esty made a relatively small ad buy:  $67,000 spread across all four network affiliates, WFSB, WTNH, WVIT and WTIC.

A Tight Year in the 5th Congressional District
For the first time since Democrats wrested the seat from Republican Nancy Johnson in 2006, campaign spending by the GOP challenger in the 5th Congressional District will fall short of $1 million.
Year GOP Challenger Spending
2008 David Cappiello $1.4 million
2010 Sam Caligiuri $1.3 million
2012 Andrew Roraback $1.6 million
2014 Mark Greenberg $2 million
2016 Clay Cope $65,000 (as of Sept. 30)
Federal Election Commission

That all ads up to an unusually quiet political season on TV — at least during the commercial breaks.

“Peace has come to the valley,” said Rich Hanley, a journalism professor at Quinnipiac University.

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, Republican Tom Foley and the Super PACs supporting them saturated the airwaves in the 2014 race for governor. Republican Linda McMahon spent $50 million in each of her campaigns for open U.S. Senate seats, losing to Blumenthal in 2010 and Chris Murphy in 2012.

Two open questions: What is the extent to which the lack of presidential and congressional advertising will depress turnout? And will the ad drought affect down-ballot races for the General Assembly?

House Minority Leader Themis Klarides, R-Derby, whose party needs a net gain of 12 state House seats for a majority in Hartford, said she believes the down-ballot candidates will rise or fall on their own.

She noted the GOP did not lose a seat in 2012 despite Barack Obama’s landslide win here, and Republican legislative candidates outperformed the top of the ticket in 2014, gaining seats despite Foley’s loss to Malloy.

“I think there’s some down-ballot effect,” said Roy Occhiogrosso, a Democratic consultant. “The question is to what degree. How can there not be?”

J.R. Romano, the state Republican chairman, said television advertising has grown less important in the age of digital media.

“The world is changing in terms of how you communicate,” he said.

“TV ads are getting to be passé,” Foley said.

Hanley, the journalism professor, said digital ads carefully targeted to social media users of Facebook and Twitter are growing in importance, but television’s time has hardly passed.

“Despite the shift to digital, TV will remain the dominant medium for some time to come,” Hanley said. “In Connecticut, a state with an older demographic trending more toward the traditional TV audience, television actually is very important.”

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