Congressman Heath Shuler has a sizeable financial advantage against his opponent heading into the fall election season.
Shuler, D-Waynesville, had $1.4 million in cash on hand compared to just $65,000 for Jeff Miller, R-Hendersonville, according to campaign finance reports filed by the two candidates in July.
Miller’s campaign contributions for the first six months of 2010 aren’t drastically below that of Shuler’s, however. Miller raised $246,000 in the first six months of the year, compared to $304,000 for Shuler.
The giant spread in their campaign treasuries is due instead to the substantial carryover in Shuler’s war chest from the past two elections. Shuler had $970,000 left, providing a generous foundation for the 2010 race. Plus, Shuler raked in more than half a million in donations in 2009 before Miller had even thrown his hat in the ring.
Miller, meanwhile, didn’t start fundraising until this year.
Miller knows the money race will be a tough road to hoe.
“We don’t have a lot of money like Shuler,” Miller said. “He pretty much has an endless well of money. He could start going on TV right now and max out and not be able to spend all his money.”
Shuler sailed into office two years ago, pulling down 62 percent of the vote compared to 36 percent for his opponent Carl Mumpower. Mumpower, a former Asheville city council member, wasn’t exactly the strongest candidate.
A controversial city councilman, Mumpower was a media lightning rod and seemed to revel in it. His eccentricities magnified during the congressional race, witnessed by a life-sized cardboard cutout of Shuler he carried to debates since Shuler wouldn’t attend.
As a result, Shuler spent only $637,000 to defeat Mumpower even though he raised $1.63 million in the 2008 election cycle.
Shuler admits he didn’t have to work very hard that race.
“Last time it was kind of a pass, and this time it won’t be a pass,” Shuler said, indicating he is ready to spend more this go around.
Miller’s ability to raise close to what Shuler raised during the first half of 2010 is impressive considering the source of contributions. Miller’s donations all came from individuals, while 60 percent of Shuler’s donations this election cycle have come from political action committees.
The incumbent advantage is obvious in the fundraising arena. Shuler picks up contributions from a laundry list of political action committees that make a habit of donating a few thousand a year to just about every sitting member of Congress, from the Airline Pilots Association and National Beer Wholesalers to corporate PACs of companies like Microsoft, Lowe’s and Duke Energy.
The trend will likely continue through the fall.
“People who donate money are strategic about it, and they are more likely to donate money to those who are more likely to win,” said Chris Cooper, a political science professor at Western Carolina University.
Miller, meanwhile, is relegated to raising smaller sums one individual at a time. The bad economy has made fundraising from individuals harder, he said.
“The part of this job I hate the most is calling people and asking them for money because I know how hard it is right now,” Miller said. “I truly dislike it, but I do it because I have to.”
Miller put in $12,000 of his own money into his candidacy so far. It’s not classified as a loan, so he doesn’t intend to pay himself back. But Miller said if he is asking others to donate their hard-earned money, he should put up some of his own.
To Miller’s detriment, he is spending money almost as soon as it comes in, according to the campaign finance reports. He spent nearly everything he raised as it came in. As a result, he has little reserves to speak of going into the critical three-month countdown to Election Day.
Miller may be behind in the money race, but he is doing what he can on a different front. He has been highly visible in the region, attending events and speaking to groups at a whirlwind pace. Miller chastised Shuler for not spending enough time interfacing with voters.
“He does not do public events. He did not do town halls that I know of,” Miller said. Not even on the health care bill, Miller said. Shuler did do call-in town halls, however, where the public received pass codes to participate.
Shuler said he is in Washington a lot, so he likely won’t be as visible as Miller on the campaign trail since he has a job to do.
“It is much harder and more difficult to be out and about,” Shuler said.
Campaign fundraising snapshot
Jeff Miller, R-Hendersonville
Cash on hand: $65,000
Cash entering the election cycle: 0
Percent raised from PACs: 0
Average donation amount: $856
Heath Shuler, D-Waynesville
Cash on hand: $1.428 million
Cash entering the election cycle: $970,000
Percent raised from PACs: 60
Average donation amount: $1,368
* Figures based on federal campaign finance reports filed by the candidates at the close of the second quarter of 2010.