The race for Congress in the Southern Tier’s 23rd district remains financially competitive, with Democrat Martha Robertson having almost as much money on hand as incumbent Republican Rep. Tom Reed to wage the rest of the campaign.
Reports filed with the Federal Election Commission Tuesday showed Reed, of Corning, with $1.27 million on hand, while Robertson, who chairs the Tompkins County Legislature, had $1.13 million as of June 30.
Reed has raised nearly $1 million more than Robertson throughout the campaign, but he’s also spent far more – $1.48 million.
The numbers released Tuesday contribute to a growing debate among Washington political pros as to how competitive the Southern Tier race really is.
“She’s demonstrated she’s a credible candidate, and the Republicans have to take her seriously,” Nathan Gonzales of the Rothenberg Political Report said of Robertson.
But David Wasserman, House editor of the Cook Political Report, said Robertson’s strong fundraising doesn’t compensate for her “weak messaging” and strongly liberal leanings.
“In a district that favors a middle-of-the-road candidate, she’s run as anything but that,” said Wasserman, adding that the Cook Political Report may soon reclassify the race, moving it from “lean Republican” to “likely Republican.”
One thing is for sure. This year’s Southern Tier race is nothing like the campaign of two years ago, when the underfunded but energetic campaign of Democrat Nate Shinagawa surprised Reed with a close race.
“We think this is still a race to watch,” said Gonzales, who noted that Robertson is raising the resources she needs to compete.
Robertson raised $451,425 in the second quarter, with 95 percent of the donors giving $250 or less.
“As of today over 6,000 individual donors have stepped up to support our campaign and I am very honored by their faith and support.” Robertson said in a statement. “The people of the 23rd district are giving us a message loud and clear that they want a representative who will fight to protect Social Security and Medicare and someone who will bring economic prosperity to the region.”
Robertson’s statement also derided Reed as a “millionaire,” but that is not true. His 2013 personal financial disclosure showed that Reed had assets of no more than $645,000, as well as hundreds of thousands of mortgage and student loan debt.
Reed’s campaign raised $596,791 in the second quarter – nearly $145,000 more than Robertson.
“This time Reed is taking the campaign much more seriously,” Wasserman said. “He’s ramped up his fundraising.”
Reed’s quarterly total was the largest he’s ever amassed, and his campaign spokesperson, Katherine Pudwill, attributed his recent success to his frequent travels across the 11 counties of the 23rd district, which includes Chautauqua and Cattaraugus counties.
“This quarter’s record breaking fundraising numbers are a testament to his willingness to hear from his constituents and continue traveling a district the size of New Jersey to remain as accessible as possible,” Pudwill said.
Then again, Reed’s most recent campaign finance disclosures show that he continues to rely heavily on political action committees for his campaign funding. And a Center for Responsive Politics study at the end of the first quarter showed that he raised 55 percent of his money at that point from political action committees, with PACs representing the insurance industry, the Republican leadership, the oil and gas sector and health professionals leading the way.
Reed also continued to spend his campaign funds at an unusually fast clip in the second quarter, when he launched his television ad campaign for the year.
Robertson criticized Reed’s quick spending as proof that he’s “so reckless with money,” but Gonzales, of the Rothenberg Political Report, said more and more candidates are spending heavily early in the election cycle, in part to “define themselves before their opponent does it for them.”