Money can’t buy votes. But it can sure help get the name out there.
In the tale of two completely different campaigns, the results were still being tallied as of press time, and so, undoubtedly for weeks, the receipts will be, too, for those rooting for Rep. Steve Knight to keep his seat, and those hoping for challenger Katie Hill’s success in Tuesday’s election.
When the dust settles, estimates for the total amount of money, including that raised on Hill’s behalf and funds raised by the candidate herself, could approach $20 million for Hill alone. She had reported about $7.27 million as of the most recent filing deadline; and the final figure would have to be at least double that, if Hill and her supporters were able to keep up the frenetic fundraising pace on top of a much-ballyhooed $5 million donation in support of her efforts by former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg.
Anyone familiar with Knight, and how he’s won in the past, knows the deficit worries him little for a couple of reasons — and helped set up the two contrasting campaigns.
Joe Messina, the chair of 38th Assembly District Republican Central Committee, said his involvement in fundraising has taught him numerous lessons, such as the more obvious, like how the need for funding grows exponentially as the races go from the school/local level to the federal government. But also, money isn’t everything.
“When we beat Tony Strickland,” Messina said, referring to the SCV’s effort in the 2014 midterm elections that pitted two Republicans against each other for the 25th Congressional District seat, “Tony spent $6 million and Steve spent $600,000 — and it was my first real lesson that the message counts more than the money, if you do it right.”
However, as anyone active in elections knows: “You need money, period,” he said, and to try and demonstrate the scale of cost, to reach a “high-level, high-propensity” voting population, just for his school board district race, he could expect to spend north of $12,000 for one high-quality mailer, he said. Between print materials and signs, the ballpark is about another $10,000 in expenses.
“It’s not the old days where you went down to the copy store and made black-and-white copies, he added, noting social media advertising, as well as spending with local media outlets, should also be considered as expected costs.
For the Hill campaign, success in its fundraising efforts allowed the messaging to be seen almost everywhere, with ads and messages arriving daily via door-knockers, mailers and now, with a fairly sizable campaign warchest, frequent ads on streaming music and TV services.
“Since Day 1, Katie has wanted to engage with voters that the party has not typically been able to engage with,” said Zack Czajkowski, campaign manager for Hill.
“You can’t leave any stones unturned. You’ve got to meet voters where they’re at,” he said. “For some, it’s on Hulu; for some, it’s at the door; for some, it’s text messages.”
Perhaps the most crucial gain the money brought was what campaigns refer to as “field operations,” according to campaign officials.
“Early on in the campaign, we invested very heavily in the field,” he said, “because we know in midterm elections, historically, that Dems tend to stay home.”
Knowing the importance of reach, peak efforts could have had as many as 2,000 door-knockers walking the district to try and canvass about 50,000 homes in a day.
“We know that to win this election, to be successful, we have to have an incredible grassroots organization,” Czajkowski said during the final hours of the campaign, as Santa Clarita Valley residents headed to the polls Tuesday. “I’m proud of what happened, and I think we showed Katie’s organizational prowess and the power of grassroots organizing — it’s really incredible stuff.”
Knight’s strategy has been less about being omnipresent, as he’s had to balance time between doing his job in Washington and sharing his campaign message with voters, and more about demonstrating results, said Knight’s campaign manager Katie Varner.
“It’s basically about accomplishments, and about the results that he’s gotten in Congress,” she said. “That was his job, and that’s why he was there.”