The two winners of the May primary for the open seat on the Idaho Supreme Court, Rupert attorney Robyn Brody and State Senator Curt McKenzie, are starting the general election in different financial positions.
Both powered through the four candidates in the May primary, with Brody taking 30.3% of the vote and McKenzie close behind at 27.7%. Trailing further behind were Court of Appeals Justice Sergio Gutierrez (21.4%) and Deputy Attorney General Clive Strong (20.7%).
Somewhat uniquely for an Idaho judicial race, McKenzie ran on his legislative service and his GOP credentials. He obtained the endorsement of many of his legislative colleagues and had the backing of the National Rifle Association, Idaho Chooses Life, Idaho Farm Bureau and the Fraternal Order of Police and Professional Firefighters of Idaho.
In contrast, Brody ran as an in-the-trenches attorney from a small town and did not rely on endorsements. But, much of her fundraising and support derived from her fellow attorneys all over Idaho. She also obtained, with Gutierrez, the top ranking in the Idaho State Bar survey.
After the primary, Brody told Robert Ehlert of the Idaho Statesman she led the pack because of three things: 1) Her connection to people, 2) Lawyers are ready to have a lawyer on the bench and 3) “[P]lain old-fashioned hard work.”
McKenzie told Betsy Russell of The Spokesman-Review “I think we’re going on because of the history of public service I’ve had, the diverse legal practice that I’ve had, and the strong academic foundation.”
McKenzie and Brody have just filed their 30-day post-primary campaign finance disclosures and they each shed considerable light on the approach pursued by each in the primary and hints of the path forward.
It was clear before the primary that Brody’s campaign was a fundraising machine. The final amount raised through the primary, even with some refunds, is a staggering $170,685.59, including about $8,000 in in-kind contributions from Brody herself. But, she raised over $160,000 from outside contributors.
What makes that so impressive is that judicial candidates cannot raise money directly. Usually, the candidate is the most powerful fundraising resource. But, when running to serve as a judge in Idaho, they must rely on a finance committee to solicit funds.
In contrast, Sen. McKenzie was only able to raise a total of $31,607.59, including loans from himself of over $13,000. That means he raised less than $20,000 from contributors, or less than one-eighth of Brody’s haul.
One question I had raised a few weeks back was whether Brody had fully deployed her significant financial advantage in the primary. She did. The latest report shows over $60,000 on literature, presumably direct mail, and more than $23,000 for various forms of broadcast media. Coupled with more than $25,000 in direct mail expenditures previously disclosed, Brody spent more than $110,000 in direct voter communication.
In contrast, McKenzie spent only a bit more than $15,000 on voter contact, specifically in the form of direct mail.
In other words, in the primary, Brody spent over seven times as much on voter-directed advertising.
Both campaigns are in a radically different position financially going into the general election campaign.
McKenzie as of May 27 had an ending cash balance of $10,707,07. But, he has debts of $13,159.69, meaning he is in the hole coming out of the primary. All of the debt is owed to McKenzie who loaned an additional $10,250.00 to his campaign just before the primary. If McKenzie does not seek immediate repayment, the campaign will have at least some funds to work with going forward.
Brody is far more flush. Her cash-on-hand in the latest report was $31,320.64 with no outstanding debt. She has, at worst, roughly three times the resources of McKenzie to begin the fall campaign.
The key fundraising questions going forward are the following:
- Can Brody continue the torrid pace of fundraising set by her campaign in the primary?
- Can McKenzie pick up his fundraising in order to be competitive?
- Will third parties intervene in the race?
The answer to each of those questions will likely play a key role in the outcome of the race on Nov. 8.
But, money is not everything. Also critical will be the themes and messages of each candidate, the amount of work each does to get their message out and those who assist them in that effort.