Sunday, February 20, 2011

They’re Off!

The mayoral candidates have broken from the starting gate and are heading for the first turn.  Now seems like as good a time as any to handicap the race.  In order to win, or at least be a contender, a candidate fundamentally needs two things: name recognition or the money to buy it, and a positive image.  Using the first requirement, we can immediately sort the field and extract the candidates with a real possibility of reaching the run off.  Those candidates with money are Steve Bach, Brian Bahr, Richard Skorman, and Buddy Gilmore.  The candidates with name recognition are Tom Gallagher and (again) Skorman.  Sorry, but the others fall almost immediately into the also-ran category.  While it is possible to get into the contender category, it is rather difficult now given the extremely short time left on the campaign.

Of the five contenders, it is likely that Skorman will lead the pack, but fall short of the 50 percent necessary to win the seat outright.  If no candidate gets more than 50 percent of the vote, there will be a run-off election.  Recent reports have Skorman’s campaign claiming the lead based on their own polling data, but denying they have a majority.  One might expect them to continue doing tracking polls and hoarding their cash.  Maybe a small media buy here and there, and doing whatever they can to keep the name in the news.  But do not expect major media spending for now, unless they think they can get over 50 percent. 

As a consequence, everyone else is running for second place.  That will require major expenditures by Bach, Bahr and Gilmore.  While Gallagher has no money, he does have the advantage of being a sitting council member and thus has some ability to get his name in the news.  There is, however, a problem with the requirement to spend large sums just to get to second place on the April ballot: how does the second place finisher fund a runoff campaign?  Take a look at the types of donations being received by Bach, Bahr and Gilmore.  Bahr and Gilmore are essentially self-funding their own campaigns.  Bahr has put in more than $200,000 of his own money.  Gilmore put a mortgage on his house to pay for his campaign.  Can they go back to that same well to get more funding for the run-off campaign?  How about Bach?  He is getting donations in the $1,000 to $5,000 category.  Can he realistically go to his donors and ask for more money in April to maintain his campaign?  Which is the easier question to ask of a donor:  You gave $1,000 to Bach’s campaign in January; can you please give $2,000 in April?  Or: You gave $25 to Skorman’s campaign in January; can you please give $50 in April?

The April campaign will be twice to three times as expensive as the February-March campaign.  In the March run up to the April ballot everyone will be self-promoting, little or no negative campaigning and thus, no need to respond to negative campaign ads.  In April that will all change.  There will be only two candidates.  The temptation will be too strong to give the voters a reason to vote against the other guy.  Who will have the financial resources to play?

Randy Purvis

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