It’s no secret that the trick to the success of many grassroots candidate backed by Tea Party groups and activist groups from the liberty movement like the Republican Liberty Caucus last year was using nationwide issue-based fundraising to drive money to local candidates from outside of their states.
The Ron Paul campaign showed how effective that strategy could be in their “moneybombs” in 2008 and it worked equally well for his son Rand and other grassroots Republicans in 2010. It made it possible for candidates whose support was primarily from small groups and individuals to widen their fundraising reach, largely through the internet, and thereby counter the influence of establishment PACs and even the Republican National Committee.
In an off-year election when there are far fewer races around the country there is the potential for this strategy to be even more effective for the small number of candidates who are running. The millions raised for hundreds of grassroots candidates in 2010 could carry far more weight when divided between only a handful of candidates in key races in 2011.
The main stumbling block is that people are still recovering from the 2010 campaign and awareness of the 2011 campaigns is not high among activists and potential donors. People just don’t think about politics as much a year when most of the elections are local and low profile. Nonetheless, there are a few very significant races being run and important victories which could be won for grassroots Republican candidates all over the country. There are special elections and state and local elections, including five governorships and a couple of seats in Congress up for grabs.
Most of these races haven’t really made it onto the national radar yet. There are four states with gubernatorial elections this year. The only one of these races which isn’t competitive is Bobby Jindal’s race for reelection in Louisiana. The other races are in West Virginia, Mississippi and Kentucky and haven’t gotten much attention outside their states. There are two vacant congessional seats, one in California (CD36) and the other in New York (CD26), both elections are to fill partial terms of representatives who resigned. There are also high profile mayoral elections in about a dozen cities and elections for major statewide offices in some of the states which are electing governors. Most of these elections are in November with party primaries earlier in the year.
In most of these races it’s still not clear who the good candidates are or even who’s running, though we know that Governor Haley Barbour cannot run for reelection in Mississippi because of term limits. So far the only race to be getting much national attention is the contest for Governor of Kentucky. A lot of attention is already focused on the state and there is a heated Republican primary to see who will get the chance to challenge incumbent Democrat Steve Beshear. Based on the surge of support for Rand Paul last November and his double-digit win in the general election it seems likely that a grassroots Republican will stand a good chance of beating Beshear. The two main contenders are State Senate Chairman David Williams and Louisville businessman Phil Moffett who has emerged as the first strong grassroots candidate of 2011.
The Kentucky GOP primary vote is on May 19th, so the campaign is already well under way, and Moffett has the support of most of the same groups which backed Rand Paul, including the recently announced endorsement of the Republican Liberty Caucus. Moffett is running on an innovative platform of major tax reform, reducing the size of government and protecting state farms and businesses from overregulation by the federal government. He has struck such a strong chord with voters that Williams has started to steal his ideas, trying to obscure his long history as a political insider.
The Kentucky primary is early compared to other primaries this year so the campaigns are already well under way, and Moffett has been using moneybombs and online events to draw in donations from Tea Partiers and Liberty Republicans all over the country who helped get so many grassroots candidates elected last November. The question for his campaign is whether those activists and donors are somewhat burnt out so soon after last year’s election, or whether they will realize what an opportunity this is and rally to support him despite the lower profile of an off-year race like this.
Moffett’s campaign has set a goal of raising $200,000 and is about half-way there. That’s significantly less than his opponent is spending, but his relative lack of cash will be offset by the enthusiasm and hard work of his followers. As happened with Rand Paul, once he wins the primary larger donors within the GOP establishment are likely to come around and start supporting him against the Democrat incumbent.
The Moffett campaign may be setting the tone for the other races which will follow this year, and showing that there’s a great opportunity for principled, grassroots Republicans to mount serious campaigns and raise substantial money during an off election year. The fundraising strategies which worked in 2010 have the potential to be even more effective now. As the campaigns in other states develop we can hope to see more candidates with Tea Party and Liberty Republican backing emerge, and those of us who support smaller, better and more responsible government should be watching for opportunities to support the best candidates, even if they are in a different state.