Campaign cash gets spread thin

November 9, 2009 5:01:38 PM PST
In just over a month, Houstonians will choose between two finalists in the race for mayor. Annise Parker and Gene Locke finished first and second in a seven person field Nov. 3. But as Eyewitness News found out, getting through an additional month of campaigning is an expensive proposition. As great as it was last Tuesday for Parker and Locke to find themselves in a runoff for mayor, it was also a wakeup call for the people running their campaigns who know what it will take to win the race next month.

"Money is critical to a campaign," political analyst Nancy Sims said. "Whether you have a small amount or a large amount, it's important. You have to have money to get your message out."

Given that only one in five Houston voters went to the polls on Nov. 3, there are still messages to get out.

"Money is important," Parker's campaign manager Adam Harris said. "It allows you to communicate with voters and do what you need to do to attract their support."

Harris said they will need another $1 million to compete with Locke, and that most of it will go to one thing.

"Voter communication," Harris said. "Very simply, voter communication. And that's a large category that includes television -- it includes targeting people on television, and it includes mail as well."

"Gene is a first time candidate," Herb Butrum, Locke's campaign finance director, said. "Naturally, we've had to spend a lot of money just introducing him to voters. Money has been very important from that standpoint."

Butrum said that Peter Brown's failed $3-million bid shows that candidate quality trumps cash, but you need both.

"It's also very difficult to win if you don't have money," Butrum said. "So, it's a necessary tool."

It is necessary in a close race to help distinguish the candidates on the issues. Something that Bill Fogarty, with a local advertising and marketing firm, said has not happened in 2008.

"I think the fact that money wasn't available is the reason that there wasn't any major distinction made," he said. "Raising money today to support a political candidate is not an easy thing to do."

In the final weeks of the race to be Houston's next mayor, candidates may wind up spending between $3 and $four million.

Parker's campaign said it raised roughly $1.8 million prior to Election Day. Locke's campaign estimates it hauled in about $2.8 million. Both believe they will spend a million more between now and the runoff Dec. 12.

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