15 by the 15th Equals Broke.

Sometimes political campaigns face a crisis in which all the choices are bad: (1) make realistic goals that are pathetically inadequate compared to what you need, (2) come across defeated when you don’t meet your wildly unrealistic goals, or (3) pretend that you work for George Orwell’s Ministry of Plenty and lie about your original goals when they are not met. 

Democratic Party candidate for attorney general Fern O’Brien has chosen the former in her 15 by the 15th fundraising drive, which is the honest choice, but no less distressing for being honest.The Goal

The goal of the 15 by the 15th fundraising drive, apparently launched today, is simple:

Our goal is to raise $15,000 by the 15th of August. This is a critical month for us. The primaries will have happened, signaling the beginning of the general election campaign season.

The Problem

What’s wrong with this? 

The fundraising report from the end of June in the race, reported by Colorado Pols, pretty well tells the story:

John Suthers (R)
$21,425 raised in June
$217,362 cash on hand

Fern O’Brien (D)
$14,430 raised in June
$8,221 cash on hand.

Also, while O’Brien hasn’t released her July campaign haul yet, it is fair to guess that it was less than $30,000, because campaigns almost always set their goals higher than the last period’s actuals.

For the math challenged, let’s put it this way.  There are basically three months until the election.  At $15,000 every half month, the goal of the 15 by the 15th campaign, O’Brien would bring in $90,000 by election day. 

This wouldn’t even bring her to half of John Suther’s current cash on hand, even if she raised $30,000 in July and has been parsimonious in spending those funds on her campaign, even if Suther’s didn’t raise another dime between now and the election.  And, incumbents with big war chests usually have an easier time raising money than challengers with small war chests.

The Plan

Of course, all hope is not lost.

Fern O’Brien has several things going in her favor. 

Foremost among them is that voters don’t pay a lot of attention to down ticket state races.  If Bill Ritter and the Democratic party Congressional delegation and other statewide candidates do well, it is entirely possible that O’Brien could ride to victory on their coattails.

Second, suppose that she can raise $100,000+ before the day is done.  She has an option.  As explained Lester E. Dubins, in his seminal book How to Gamble If You Must, in any situation where the odds are against you, you will generally be better off putting all your eggs in one basket and making that one shot the best you possibly can.  Operationalized to the world of a political underdog, this probably translates into spending as much as you possibly can on the biggest, best, wittiest ad buy possible on the eve of the election and hoping you hit a nerve.

Finally, money isn’t everything.  Politicians have a sad habit of putting their feet in their mouth.  John Suthers could do something that utter discredits him, leaving O’Brien ready to step into the gap, particularly if she has managed to avoid any faux pas moments herself.

She has a credible resume as a partner in a high end law firm, and is a major party nominee.  She can fit the part, if she can get the public to pay attention, as hard as that is to do without ample cash on hand.

While it involves some risk, it also wouldn’t hurt to get practice for that fateful moment by repeatedly pointing out Suther’s missteps with press releases and low budget, yet tasteful, media events.  Indeed, because the odds are against her, she has no choice but to take some serious risks.  When you don’t have a lot of money, free publicity is everything.

It will be interesting to see what happens in this object lesson in money v. partisanship.

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Andrew Oh-Willeke

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