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Gubernatorial Candidates Spend Big to Win Big

In the high-stakes gubernatorial race, the candidates are spending hundreds of thousands of dollars in a competition to raise more money — and, hopefully, win more votes — than the competition.

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In a high-stakes election like this year’s gubernatorial race, fundraising is key if candidates want to be competitive. But raising heaps of cash isn't cheap.

Much of the attention surrounding last week's release of the candidates' latest campaign finance reports focused on which candidate added more money to his or her campaign coffer. But the leading GOP gubernatorial candidate, Attorney General Greg Abbott, and his likely Democratic opponent, state Sen. Wendy Davis, also spent hundreds of thousands of dollars chasing down those dollars.

Abbott, who has the largest war chest in Texas state politics, reported raising $11.5 million in the second half of 2013, and he started the new year with $27 million in the bank, according to the latest campaign finance reports.

Davis’ haul during the same period included $8.7 million directly and another $3.5 million from the Texas Victory Fund, a joint fund that splits resources between her campaign and Battleground Texas, a Democratic group working to increase voter turnout and make Democrats competitive in the state. She reported a combined total of $12.2 million.

To generate those big dollars, both campaigns are relying on experienced fundraisers that have amassed large sums of campaign funds during presidential bids. And both are largely focusing their fundraising efforts online.

The Abbott campaign has tapped the Lauderback Group, the fundraising firm that helped raise money for Gov. Rick Perry’s failed 2012 presidential bid. More than $1 million of the Abbott campaign’s cash went to the firm in the second half of 2013.

Additionally, Abbott’s campaign has said it will rely heavily on online advertising and on a “digital grassroots army” to turn online support into real contributions.

For its online advertising and social media strategies, the campaign is using advertising agencies that Mitt Romney used during his failed 2012 presidential bid, including Targeted Victory, which received $480,748 from the campaign, and SRCP Media Inc., which received $96,550.

"Greg Abbott's message continues to resonate with Texans, as evidenced by the 97 percent of contributions coming from Texans in the latest fundraising report," Abbott spokesman Avdiel Huerta said of the campaign's fundraising efforts.

Davis has hired several former consultants to President Obama, including fundraisers who helped him raise a record-setting $193 million in his 2008 campaign and more than $1 billion in his 2012 re-election bid.

The Davis campaign spent $45,000 on fundraising consulting services through the D.C.-based Smoot Tewes Group, which was founded by two of Obama’s senior campaign architects. It spent $22,000 on fundraising support from former Obama fundraiser Lindsay Rachelefsky. More than $9,000 went to fundraising by ActBlue, a nonprofit organization that creates fundraising software that Democratic candidates can use to process donations online.

Davis spokesman Bo Delp attributed the campaign's final fundraising figure, in part, to online fundraising efforts. 

"Online fundraising helped Senator Davis raise $12.2 million, which was the result of 71,843 individual contributors," Delp said. "Wendy Davis also received contributions from all 254 Texas counties, and online fundraising helped make that happen."

The Abbott campaign has disputed the claim that Davis outraised him, calling the Democrat's reporting method "fuzzy math."

Additionally, the Davis campaign paid Well & Lighthouse, a consulting firm that assisted U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid in his 2010 re-election campaign, to help with online and social media advertising, spending more than $440,700 since July — three months before Davis announced her candidacy.

While both campaigns tout their grassroots support, their bottom lines have also been boosted by the fact that Texas has no limit on individual contributions, giving candidates the ability to attract big-dollar donors.

Abbott reported receiving 25 six-figure donations in the last reporting period. Davis also received several six-figure contributions, but those were topped by an individual contribution of $1 million from an Austin doctor.

Still, the campaigns are keeping their attention online, and both candidates have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on digital consultants and strategists.

“Fundraising in a major campaign — a presidential campaign, a Senate campaign or a campaign for governor in a big state like Texas — is a huge drain on both time and resources,” said Cal Jillson, a political scientist at Southern Methodist University.

Jillson said he expects the final expenditures for each campaign to be significantly more than $30 million, which means a stable fundraising infrastructure is key to the success of both campaigns.

“It’s one of those things where you’ve got to spend money to raise money.” Jillson said.

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Politics 2014 elections Campaign finance Greg Abbott Wendy Davis