Strong, competitive election campaigns benefit voters and promote good government.
Unfortunately, the cost of mounting such a campaign is becoming a significant roadblock for many would-be candidates.
Cost was at least one of the key factors in Ron Thornburgh’s decision to withdraw from the Republican race for the Kansas governorship. Thornburgh assessed the daunting challenge of running against U.S. Sen. Sam Brownback for the GOP nomination and found that “the numbers just didn’t work out.” Rather than spending the next 13 months “beating my head against that wall,” he decided to bow out of the race.
One set of discouraging numbers was the polling that showed Brownback leading Thornburgh by a margin of 59 percent to 19 percent. The other, perhaps even more important, number was in Thornburgh’s campaign bank account. By the end of December, when the last reports were filed, Thornburgh had raised only $141,000, well below the $4 million to $6 million some observers estimate it takes to mount a well-executed gubernatorial campaign.
“It’s a brutal fundraising environment right now,” Thornburgh said.
So the decision largely comes down to money. Thornburgh might have been a good candidate who brought good ideas to the campaign. Depending on how the campaign developed, he might even have made a strong challenge for the governor’s seat. But without the money to continue his campaign, Kansans will never know.
Some low-funded candidates still enter key races in order to gain a forum for their political ideas, but, without the money to support campaign staff and advertising, they pose little threat to a well-funded candidate. Candidates at all levels of government often refer to their desire to run a “campaign of ideas.” That’s great, but it only works for candidates who can raise enough money to have their ideas heard.
Political observers across the state are saying that Thornburgh’s withdrawal pretty much clears the path to the governorship for Brownback. With the Democrats still searching for a strong candidate, that may be the case, but 18 months is a long time in partisan politics.
Active primary campaigns involving two or more strong candidates for governor would foster the debate of important issues facing the state and offer voters a real choice. Hopefully, the money-driven nature of modern politics won’t take that opportunity away.