Cash, Technology Increasingly Changing Face of Political Campaigns in OK

Article excerpt

may not change everything or make the world go around - depending on whether your song preference leans more toward Cyndi Lauper or tunes from Cabaret - but it has increasingly become a key focus of political campaigns, say Oklahoma consultants.

Driven by soaring television ad rates and many more competitive races for term-limited open seats, the need for more money has changed the structure of campaigning.

The main thing that really has changed is, fundraising used to be a part of a campaign, said Sharon Caldwell, a partner in the political consulting firm CMA Strategies. Now it is the main part of the campaign.

Caldwell said the need for more and more money has become so dominant, It makes a big difference in how much a candidate can be out in the public, because they are so focused on the money, and they have to be.

What the skyrocketing cost of campaigns has not changed, experts say, modern technology has.

A lot of candidates are walking now with Palm Pilots, said Michael Carrier, president and CEO of Carrier Marshall & Associates, a political consulting company. They sink information into those Palm Pilots as they go door to door.

Carrier said it helps candidates determine which issues are most important to the voters they are targeting.

Pat McFerron, also a partner in CMA Strategies, said such micro- targeting and candidates' use of sophisticated databases has lessened the impact of political parties.

Technology has allowed us to do that, he said. So you can go around an organized party structure to reach voters.

Carrier, a former journalist who has been working in political campaigns for 16 years, said rising campaign costs have increasingly left candidates with less time for voter contact as they must zero in on raising money.

That's why we're seeing so many campaigns kick off in seriousness 18 months to two years out, some of them, particularly for statewide races or congressional races, he said.

Carrier said a single broadcast TV spot on a nightly news program can cost $1,800 to $4,000, and cable spots have increased from $5 or $10 to up to $500 apiece.

It becomes impossible unless you have a significant war chest, he said.

Caldwell said that two great weeks of TV advertising can cost $200,000.

Carrier said just one side of a governor's race can cost between $5 million and $8 million, if you're going to do it right.

He said that ballpark can fluctuate significantly, depending upon whether a candidate faces a primary or runoff opponent.

Carrier said he expects GOP gubernatorial primary candidates Bob Sullivan and U.S. Rep. Ernest Istook to spend $2 million to $3 million each in their primary.

Caldwell, who works in Republican campaigns, said she wouldn't be surprised if Gov. Brad Henry ultimately spends between $4 million and $5 million.

Carrier said a hotly contested U.S. Senate race can cost between $5 million and $10 million per side, with a U.S. House race running between $350,000 and $400,000, or even more.

Anything less and you're just not considered credible, he said.

Carrier said the heated contest between U.S. Sen. Tom Colburn and Brad Carson cost close to $10 million per side, if not more, including actual campaign contributions and money spent by independent groups on one side or the other.

Carrier said a state House race that cost $20,000 or $30,000 a decade ago can cost $200,000 per side in top contests.

Caldwell said she can remember when a $100,000 state Senate race was considered astronomical.

These days, she said, the range is closer to $80,000 or more with $500,000 races not out of the realm of possibility.

In the crowded 5th Congressional District race, Caldwell said, each candidate may spend between $500,000 and $1 million in the primary, with the possibility of additional spending in a runoff before the general election. …

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