Republican PAC is biggest spender by far in Kansas 2nd District congressional race
photo by: Contributed and AP photos
TOPEKA – Democratic congressional candidate Paul Davis reported raising and spending more than $1 million during the third quarter of this year, far more than his Republican opponent Steve Watkins, who reported raising and spending less than one-third that amount, according to campaign finance reports filed Monday with the Federal Election Commission.
Those figures, however, were dwarfed by spending from one Republican super PAC, which reported pouring just over $3 million into the 2nd District race in eastern Kansas.
The Congressional Leadership Fund, a super PAC closely aligned with U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan, reported spending $2.7 million in advertising and other campaign activity opposing Davis, plus about $355,000 supporting Watkins.
University of Kansas political science professor Patrick Miller said while that may be unusual in Kansas politics, it has become the norm nationally, especially in toss-up congressional races like the 2nd District this year.
“If you look back at the 2016 election, the top tier of U.S. House races might run anywhere from $10 (million) to $20 million,” he said in an interview. “In toss-up races, outside spending is usually more than the candidates are spending. You should expect super PACs to be spending more than the candidates are.”
According to Davis’ campaign finance report, he began the quarter with $942,000 in the bank. Since then, he raised another $912,000 in individual contributions, plus another $121,000 from PACs and political party committees. He also received about $327,000 from other campaign committees, bringing his total receipts for the quarter to more than $1.3 million — a figure his campaign described as a record for a single quarter in the 2nd District.
Of that, his campaign spent just over $1 million, leaving the campaign with more than $1.2 million on hand heading into the final weeks of the campaign.
The Watkins campaign, meanwhile, began the quarter with only $125,000 on hand after surviving a hotly contested primary against six other GOP candidates. Since then, he raised $282,000, more than half of which came from PACs.
He spent only about $256,000 out of his own campaign account, leaving him with a little more than $151,000 in cash heading into the final stretch.
But Watkins has benefited from what is, for a Kansas congressional race, an extraordinary influx of outside money. In addition to the Congressional Leadership Fund, the National Republican Congressional Committee has also made independent expenditures on his behalf, although those figures were not available Tuesday.
The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has also made independent expenditures on Davis’ behalf, although details of those expenditures also were not available Tuesday.
Miller, however, said the key to winning a congressional race isn’t just how much money the candidates spend. It’s about how they spend it.
“It really is hard to buy an election,” he said. “The key is spending enough to get your message out and spending it on the right message.”