Gubernatorial candidates Charlie Baker and Martha Coakley were neck and neck in fund-raising for the first two weeks of September, according to figures released by the campaigns on Tuesday, but the Republican still enjoys a huge, nearly 11-to-1 cash advantage over the Democratic nominee.
As she looks to close the gap with Baker in the seven weeks until Election Day, Coakley is stepping up her fund-raising efforts, while relying on heavy support from outside groups
Coakley and Steve Kerrigan, the Democratic candidate for lieutenant governor, raised about $200,000 in the first two weeks of September, according to the campaign, roughly matching the total for Baker and his running mate, Karyn Polito.
Baker, who faced only nominal opposition in the GOP primary, was able to stockpile cash through the summer and fall, however, and has about $930,000 in his account, according to his campaign. Polito has $360,000 in cash on hand.
Coakley and Kerrigan, who had to spend substantial sums in Democratic primaries, have war chests of about $86,000 and $20,000, respectively.
With such a sizable gap in cash available for the general election campaign, Democrats were eager Tuesday to project the image of a party united around Coakley as they prepared to shake the trees for more money. “Democrats are totally determined to raise whatever Martha Coakley needs to win,” said Philip W. Johnston, a former chairman of the state party who supported Coakley’s rival Steve Grossman in the Democratic primary.
Johnston is one of several prominent Democrats co-hosting a fund-raiser Friday at the Fairmont Copley Plaza hotel in Boston, headlined by Senator Elizabeth Warren.
Candidates can raise money in $500 increments, but the party can accept up to $5,000 per donor and Democrats are hoping it can be a substantial player in the race.
The state party has already spent about $100,000 on a pro-Coakley television advertisement and plans to increase the buy in the coming days.
Baker, too, is on the air. He spent about $283,000 on a television spot touting his support for abortion rights and moderate politics over the same period, his campaign said. GOP strategists say the bigger buy has given him an important edge in the early stages of a race that opinion polls show is close.
“It’s a tremendous advantage to be the first one coming out of the primary” with a substantial television presence, said Charles Manning, a Republican operative who advised Mitt Romney during his 2002 campaign for governor.
But observers say an infusion of cash from third-party sources should help Democrats close the gap with Republicans.
A Democrat-aligned super PAC, funded by several unions and the Democratic Governors Association, has spent heavily on television advertising for Coakley in the days since the Sept. 9 party primaries.
Still, the growing role of independent spending means candidates — particularly underfunded candidates such as Coakley — will have less control over the message. “In many ways, we’re entering an era that might be called the Wild West,” said Edwin Bender, executive director of the National Institute on Money in State Politics in Montana.
Coakley is not the first Democratic gubernatorial candidate to face a daunting fund-raising gap coming out of a competitive primary.
In 2002, Democrat Shannon O’Brien had less than $100,000 in her campaign account at the start of her general election tilt with Romney. While she was shuttling between as many as four or five fund-raisers a day, trying to scrape together enough cash for an ad campaign, a well-funded Romney was already up on television.
O’Brien, who lost the 2002 race, said Tuesday that Coakley’s campaign will have to move swiftly to stay competitive. “The biggest challenge is time — getting the money in quickly to make meaningful television buying decisions,” she said.
But Democrats privately acknowledged that Coakley is in something of a bind. She needs to raise money to fund her operations and project viability. But she also needs to be seen on the streets shaking hands to appear engaged.
The balance is particularly difficult for Coakley to strike because of lingering concern about her failed 2010 Senate bid. In that race, a low public profile led to broad criticism that she was not working hard enough to win.
Like Coakley, Baker’s effort will be aided by a super PAC, which is mostly funded by the Republican Governors Association. It has already launched an advertising blitz and signaled that it will play a substantial role in the coming weeks.
The state parties, hoping to keep pace, are busy raising cash. Democratic party officials say they raised about $200,000 in the first two weeks of September, a figure they hope to build on with the Warren-headlined fund-raiser Friday.
The state Republican party raised almost $225,000 in the first two weeks of the month. It has not yet gone on television.
Independent candidate Evan Falchuk raised $8,800 in the first two weeks of September and spent $263,000, largely his own money. He has $58,000 on hand, his campaign said.
A spokesman for independent Jeff McCormick said the campaign collected $37,830 in the first two weeks of September, and had cash on hand of $116,401. Independent Scott Lively declined to release his fund-raising totals.
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