By Jim Ellis
April 22, 2020 — Continuing with our analysis of certain 1st quarter 2020 fundraising numbers, today we look at the upcoming runoff elections that are happening in Alabama, North Carolina, and Texas.
In Alabama, former US attorney general and ex-three term senator Jeff Sessions, and retired Auburn University head football coach Tommy Tuberville move to a postponed July 14 runoff that was originally scheduled for March 31. Tuberville placed first in the primary election by one percentage point over former Sen. Sessions, attempting to make a political comeback and overcome his national feud with President Trump. The longer runoff cycle may give Sessions the opportunity for a rebound.
Though Tuberville finished first, he is behind Sessions in campaign resources though both have plenty with which to compete. For the campaign, Sessions has spent $3.81 million as compared to Tuberville’s $2.84 million. In the first quarter, Tuberville outraised Sessions by just over $40,000. Tuberville raised $785,513 in the first quarter and had $458,519 in his campaign account at the end of March. While Sessions posted a bit less at $743,861, he has more cash-on-hand: $749,235. These numbers tell us that both men will be able to deliver their respective campaign messages before the July 14 vote.
In the Alabama House runoffs, Mobile County Commissioner Jerry Carl (R) outpolled former state senator Bill Hightower (R-Mobile) but not in first quarter fundraising. Hightower led the dollar pace with $344,627 raised versus $169,785, but as a local political official, Carl has been attracting a great deal of earned media because of area coronavirus protection messages. Cash-on-hand is virtually equal, with both men holding slightly more than $200,000. Carl spent $1.3 million in the primary opposite Hightower’s $858,000.
The 2nd District runoff features self-funding businessman Jeff Coleman, who placed first in the Republican primary against former state representative, Barry Moore. The big story here is Coleman financing just short of $1 million for his almost $2 million primary campaign. With Moore raising only $46,137 for the entire 1st quarter, it appears Coleman will be very difficult to overcome in the runoff election.
In North Carolina just one run-off is occurring — in White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows’ former 11th District. The Republican contest features Meadows’ endorsed candidate, former Haywood County Republican Party chair Lynda Bennett and real estate company owner Madison Cawthorn. Bennett placed first in the primary, and has an edge in fundraising, but Cawthorn was able to self-fund to a degree of $311,000.
Overall, spending was low here and will likely be for the final stages of the runoff. Bennett had $81,405 in the bank at the end of March as compared to Cawthorn’s $22,145. The runoff election is postponed from May 12 to June 23.
Texas features a US Senate runoff and seven competitive runoff elections. The original May 26 runoff has been re-scheduled to July 14. Retired Army helicopter pilot and ex-congressional candidate M.J. Hegar, who placed first in the Democratic primary, significantly leads state Sen. Royce West (D-Dallas) in cash-on-hand: $1.09 million to $124,824. Clearly, Hegar has the inside track toward facing Sen. John Cornyn (R) in November.
Of the seven House runoffs, three are the most interesting. Former congressman Pete Sessions, defeated in 2018, has switched from a Dallas district to the 17th CD that stretches from Waco to the Bryan/College Station area, and he placed first in the Republican primary. Sessions advances to the runoff with medical executive Renee Swann, who self-funded her campaign to the degree of $454,000. Swann is retiring Rep. Bill Flores’ (R-Bryan) endorsed candidate, but she came in behind Sessions by more than 12 percentage points.
Ex-Rep. Sessions raised more in the first quarter, $176,364 to Ms. Swann’s $129,077, but has $33,500 less in his campaign account. Overall, Sessions spent over $745,000 for the primary as compared to Swann’s $539,640 of which almost 85 percent was self-funded.
The biggest financial disparity in a runoff campaign comes in Texas’ open 22nd District where multi-millionaire businesswoman Kathaleen Wall faces Ft. Bend County Sheriff Troy Nehls in the Republican runoff. Wall spent over $4.4 million in the primary election, defeating businessman Pierce Bush, grandson of President George H.W. Bush, for the second runoff position.
Nehls spent only $358,000 in the primary and raised just $78,989 in the first quarter. It remains to be seen if Nehls’ strong Ft. Bend County base is enough to overcome being wildly outspent in the runoff campaign. The eventual winner faces former Foreign Service officer Sri Preston Kulkarni, the 2018 Democratic nominee in this district, who won his party’s nomination outright on March 3.
In the Dallas Metroplex area, two Democrats are vying for the right to face former Irving Mayor Beth Van Duyne (R) in the general election. The November winner succeeds retiring veteran Rep. Kenny Marchant (R-Coppell). Retired Air Force Colonel Kim Olson finished first in the Democratic primary and faces local school board member Candace Valenzuela in the runoff election.
Though Olson was the early favorite and outspent Valenzuela $1.03 million to $507,000 in the primary, the 1st quarter fundraising and subsequent cash-on-hand figures look to be about even. With Valenzuela on the upswing, this runoff has the potential of becoming highly competitive down the home stretch.