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What the Devil won't tell you

Mark Kelly bank-breaking campaign fundraising important but not sufficient

To say Mark Kelly is raising money in his campaign for the U.S. Senate is like saying Jeff Bezos is making a fast buck destroying brick and mortar stores nationwide.

The astronaut husband of former U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords is backing up the truck, a C-5 Galaxy and a space shuttle payload bay so donors can just pour in the cash.

Since announcing his candidacy on Feb. 12, he has raised $4.1 million in his bid to unseat the freshly appointed U.S. Sen. Martha McSally, reports just filed with the Federal Election Commission show.

McSally’s fundraising through the first quarter of 2019 has been rather spectacular, too, in an earthbound sort of way. She’s raised $1.9 million. She's leading the pack of vulnerable Republican senators in fundraising, facing what could be a tough cycle in 2020 

Kelly is just in another universe. 

Colorado’s Cory Gardner, North Carolina’s Thom Tillis and Montana’s Steve Daines combined for the reporting period to raise $3,806,547 over the span of 90 days. Kelly raised $300,000 more than all of them in just 47 days.

U.S. Sen. Kyrsten Sinema just won her Senate seat after a state-record-shattering haul of $22.6 million and she boasted only one quarter exceeding Kelly’s total so far. That was during the stretch run when she raised $5.3 million between August and October 2018. McSally raised $4.7 million during that period. 

But that's Prime Time. Right now, we're in the wee hours far ahead of the fullness of the campaign. 

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The late John McCain and his Democratic opponent Ann Kirkpatrick combined to raise $7 million during all of 2015, the year before their general election match-up.

Kelly has set an early pace to raise $31 million by the end of 2019.

Quite the head start

Not every candidate comes with Kelly’s heroic background as a man who rides a column of burning hydrogen and liquid nitrogen for a living. Throw in his doting presence helping rehabilitate a wife gravely wounded in an assassination attempt, and Kelly wound up on the cover of Esquire and featured in U2 concerts.

Giffords and Kelly also have access to the fundraising list of GiffordsPAC, a gun-control advocacy organization that spent $12.2 million during the last election cycle. 

The former congresswoman was forced to resign after being shot in the head during the Jan. 8, 2011 Tucson attack that transfixed the nation and a good part of the world. The couple has since sought to pass gun-control legislation and drawn a national fundraising base.

Also, Giffords has swapped fundraising lists with other members of Congress, which is why you ask to be on the Giffords list and end up getting spammed by Lois Frankel.

Kelly has raised $1.5 million of his early take from donors giving less than $200 and that’s a list he can hit over and over and over. McSally tapped $704,337 from these small-chunk donors.

Fast start gets you what?

They don’t say "early money is like yeast" for nothing. It raises the dough.

He can go hire 50 field operatives right now to build an organization statewide to start packing events. That will raise more money.

He can start building a data operation to identify supporters and raise more money.

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He can hire top-flight consultants which is a signal to national donors that they won’t be throwing good money after bad, so they will send him more money.

Money begets money, which lends credibility and sucks in more money.

One other thing that the money will allow is for Kelly to run his own race on his own terms. When the party establishment is shoveling money at a campaign, they tend to want to take it over and dictate terms. Then those D.C. insiders call the shots or they tell the D.C. moneybags to cut off the cash (that's the threat anyway) if a candidate gets too independent.

That doesn't mean they throw in with corporate interests. They just do what the polls tell them to do at the risk of authenticity.

The road to reclamation

There’s no question that the couple’s place in American culture has helped. The gasoline on Kelly’s fundraising fire is likely that he would seem to be a necessary piece of the puzzle needed to flip the U.S. Senate to the Democrats, if it’s going to happen.

Progressives want to dispatch Donald J. Trump, absolutely, but they would also love to knock the grin off Mitch McConnell's mug by making him the minority leader.

Democrats need a net gain of three seats and the White House to take control of the Senate. Alabama’s seat seems all but gone without a borderline pedophile staining the GOP ticket. The best pickup opportunities – in order – appear to be Colorado, North Carolina, Arizona, Maine, Iowa and maybe Montana (with a candidate like  Gov. Steve Bullock or former Gov. Brian Schweitzer on the ballot). 

Winning back the Senate will be hard – no matter what you’ve heard about how many states Republicans will have to defend. Those states are deeply red, trending red or as ornery as Maine and Montana, which refuse to be classified as a red/blue or swing state.

Kelly's fate is completely entangled in the Democrats hopes to take over the Senate. They need each other and they know it.

Poor Martha, Part 187

McSally outraised many of her Republican Senate colleagues tapping a rich vein of donors to pile up what should be plenty of money. But she’s up against everyone’s All-American everything seeking the political resurrection of his wife’s name.

McSally’s career seems snakebit by the Trump era. Not so long ago, Arizona seemed about a decade away from becoming a purple state because the demographics are just going to take that long to move the state to the left.

Then came Trump, with a unique brand of nationalism and open hostility to McCain. White Maricopa County voters in 2018 flipped from R to D in sufficient numbers to elect Sinema.

McSally tried to tie herself to Trump to turn out his voters but that turned off swing voters. She may want to start striking contrasts with the president and see if Republicans really stay home with the Donald on the ballot. Does she think Cochise and Mohave county voters are going to throw in with a gun control candidate like Kelly?

Otherwise, I’m not sure Trumpism’s retro cultural play works in the state's urban centers more tied to trade, tech and the future than it is to a nostalgic Stetsoned rural past.

If I want to predict what states are breaking blue or red, for the first time I'm looking at strong economies. The parts of the country doing best with modernity are the ones breaking blue. I’m talking Colorado, Virginia, Georgia and Texas with South Carolina on the horizon and perhaps even Idaho beyond that. Arizona fits in that model.

So red states that benefited from conservative fiscal policy may dispatch it for a progressive future. Hey, the New Deal and Great Society created a middle class that would reject both for Reagainism.

But let's not get nuts ... 

The money simply means that Kelly will have the resources to compete for votes but that's something must master himself.

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It’s not at all certain that Kelly knows how to campaign. He might very well be excellent at it but we just don’t know yet. The stump ain’t for everyone and this is a time when authenticity matters more than being micromanaged by the pros the money will let him hire.

He can literally buy himself all the advice needed to kill his candidacy.

He’s also facing something that Sinema did not. Donald Trump’s name will be on the ballot. If Arizonans wanted to vote against the president in 2018, Sinema was their best proxy. In 2020, Arizona Republicans who fancy themselves “never Trumpers” can just vote against the man himself and return to their partisan inclinations further down the ballot.

McSally could benefit from ticket-splitting.

And Arizona hasn’t sent two Democrats to the U.S. Senate since Carl Hayden and Ernest MacFarland represented the state together up until 1952. So it’s been 68 years.

Kelly hasn’t banked a single vote and McSally hasn’t yet lost one. She may not be doomed to burn up in Trump’s immolation. Single-term presidents are rare. There have just been four since 1896 and when presidents win re-election the other party can scarcely understand how it happened.

Kelly’s campaign is generating a national buzz and has the money to match.

That’s only good news for a candidate whose launch looks A-OK so far.

Blake Morlock is an award-winning columnist who worked in daily journalism for nearly 20 years and is a former communications director for the Pima County Democratic Party. Now he’s telling you things the Devil won’t.


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have your say   

3 comments on this story

3
19 comments
Apr 19, 2019, 5:15 pm
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Edomdo ... pretty sure gun control would be one ... but you are correct that he’ll have to show he can turn out the third-way skeptics.

2
8 comments
Apr 18, 2019, 3:13 pm
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Of course he can fundraise. He stands for nothing and he’s the next best thing to being a Republican. Show me one instance where his policy proposals differ from McSally’s. You can’t? I didn’t think so.

1
151 comments
Apr 17, 2019, 2:03 pm
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Go Mark.

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illustration by Joseph Oland/TucsonSentinel.com

U.S. Sen. Martha McSally and her astronaut challenger Mark Kelly are buried in cash through the first quarter of campaign fundraising.