Out-Spent, Not Out-Worked

Establishment incumbents wildly out-spent their conservative challengers, with lobbyists putting in tens of thousands of dollars. Yet when the votes were counted in race after race, those dollars meant less than the hard work, shoe-leather and convictions of the new representatives-elect.

It’s a convenient excuse to not challenge an incumbent “because of their money advantage.” Here’s a news-flash: challengers almost never have more money than the incumbents. Yes, challengers need to have enough backing to get their message out – but year after year, race after race, the difference isn’t money, it’s message.

Look at House District 55, where incumbent Ralph Sheffield was defeated by challenger Molly White. The liberal leaning supporter of House Speaker Joe Straus had a 6-to-1 money advantage of the challenger. He spent more than $200,000, she spent less than $35,000.

An analysis of spending by the Texas Tribune finds that Sheffield spent $42.54 per vote in his losing bid for re-election, while White spent just $3.90 per vote to win.

In HD115, liberal Republican Bennett Ratliff – scion of an establishment GOP family known for their support of Wendy Davis and bad education policy – was sent packing by conservative challenger Matt Rinaldi. Even liberal grocery store magnate Charles Butt (whose H-E-B stores fuel his giving against conservatives) spent big for Ratliff.

According to the Texas Tribune, Ratliff spent $97.11 per vote while Rinaldi spent just $7.68. Tell me again how money moves elections?

The same story is repeated in HD105, where Straus-supporter Linda Harper-Brown outspent conservative Rodney Anderson by a 3-to-1 margin.

In all three races, the challengers worked hard. They were constantly on the streets, walking precincts and meeting with voters.

Money matters in elections, candidates must get out their name and message. Challengers need enough money to be competitive, but it is even more important that they have a compelling message that resonates with voters.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Michael is president and CEO of Empower Texans. A graduate of Texas A&M, former newspaper reporter, one-time Capitol Hill staffer, think tank vice president, and an Eagle Scout, Sullivan is married with three children. He divides his time between the Metroplex, the rest of Texas, and Austin.

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