Money only part of the story in seeking elective office

by The Oklahoman Editorial Board Published: July 8, 2012
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TWO reports by the National Institute on Money in State Politics underscore several obvious truths of politics — incumbents tend to get re-elected, those who raise the most money tend to win political races, and incumbents who raise the most money do especially well.

Nationally, the institute found that 87 percent of incumbent legislators running in 2009 and 2010 were re-elected, with one-third drawing no opponent. Legislative candidates who raised more money than opponents were successful 76 percent of the time. And 88 percent of incumbents who raised more money than opponents won.

In the 2010 elections, the institute ranked Oklahoma among the 10 least competitive states with only 18 of 125 legislative seats monetarily competitive and just 46 percent of all seats contested.

Some will see those numbers as a problem. They're not. Both incumbency and fundraising ability are tied to a candidate's appeal. When an incumbent doesn't draw a challenger, it's often a sign that constituents are happy.

People donate to candidates they support. Incumbency makes it easier to raise money because people are already invested in that person. But this doesn't mean a challenger can't attract campaign donations or voter support.

The institute found that roughly 12 percent of challengers outraised incumbents in Oklahoma legislative races in 2010. Furthermore monetary leaders in Oklahoma legislative districts failed to win nearly one in five races. In last month's primaries, several candidates fared well against better-funded opponents. Most notably, Jim Bridenstine ousted 10-year incumbent Rep. John Sullivan in the 1st Congressional District Republican primary.

The Tulsa World found the winner of more than one in four Republican primaries in June wasn't the candidate who raised the most money. Paul Blair made the World's list of the five best-funded legislative candidates. Blair's opponent, state Sen. Clark Jolley, R-Edmond, raised even more and won the race. But Blair clearly had the resources to communicate with the voters and compete.


by The Oklahoman Editorial Board
The Oklahoman Editorial Board consists of Gary Pierson, President and CEO of The Oklahoma Publishing Company; Christopher P. Reen, president and publisher of The Oklahoman; Kelly Dyer Fry, editor and vice president of news; Christy Gaylord...
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