WASHINGTON — With the July primary election in the rearview mirror, it's time for candidates to get down to the nitty-gritty of the general election campaign and spending their way to public office.
At least that's the traditional line of thought. But most of the challengers for Utah's U.S. House seats and one U.S. Senate seat haven't raised all that much money, and they've spent even less of it, reports filed Friday with the Federal Elections Commission show.
For example, from July 1 to Sept. 30, Steven Thompson, a Democrat who is challenging first-term GOP Rep. Rob Bishop, raised $35,987 — a negligible amount for a congressional race. And he spent only $31,000.
Bishop, on the other hand, raised $111,596 during the same period — $363,000 over the 2003-04 election cycle — and he's spent almost $290,000.
Bishop leads in the latest Deseret Morning News/KSL-TV poll by 31 points.
But there is no frugality evident in Utah's 2nd Congressional District, where two-term incumbent Rep. Jim Matheson, D-Utah, raised $382,741 during the three-month reporting period. That goes along with the $1,067,279 he had in the bank on July 1, FEC reports show.
Matheson spent $948,785 during those same three months, distancing himself from Republican challenger John Swallow not only in money raised but in the public opinion polls, where Matheson leads by 32 points.
Matheson has been a fund-raising machine over the past two years, bringing in $1.6 million for his re-election bid.
To make matters worse for Swallow, Matheson still has more than a half-million dollars in his account as the campaign winds down toward the Nov. 2 election.
With a total of $388,356, Swallow actually raised more money than Matheson during the past three months, albeit only a few thousand dollars. His spending, on the other hand, came nowhere near Matheson's total, as Swallow only spent $224,688.
The Republican challenger also has less money for the stretch run, with $378,161 in cash remaining. But it appears that some of Swallow's financial support is drying up, as the Club For Growth's cash, which has flowed abundantly to Swallow in the past, has slowed to a trickle.
As of Aug. 30, the Club, which is a pro-tax cut, pro-small-government group out of Washington, D.C., had funneled individual contributions to Swallow of $202,000. That was not an insignificant amount. It made up about a fourth of Swallow's contributions to that time.
But since Sept. 1, the Club has only given Swallow $19,000 more. His contributions from the Club now tally $221,000, Club officials said Thursday, two days after $3,000 in checks were sent to Swallow.
The Club is supporting 20 or so conservative GOP congressional candidates this year that the group believes have a real chance of winning — most of the endorsements coming in races against incumbent Democrats.
David Keating, the Club's executive director, said the drop in giving to Swallow has nothing to do with Swallow's standing in media polls.
The Club's U.S. "House candidates are not getting as much (now), as we've been concentrating on our Senate races," Keating said.
Anyway, the Club does not pay attention to media polls in deciding where to send its financial resources, he added. "No offense meant, but we make our own decisions, sometimes we talk to the candidates (to see how they think the race is going). And sometimes we look at the candidate's own polls. But we didn't do that" in Swallow's case, Keating said.
After an early October poll by the newspaper and TV station showed Matheson with a 32 percentage point lead, Matheson said he guessed that some groups supporting Swallow financially may not put much more money into the race.
However, soon thereafter the National Republican Congressional Committee, the national party's U.S. House PAC, started running TV ads against Matheson, along with an automated telephone campaign going into a number of 2nd District households.
No one knows exactly how much the NRCC will spend in the 2nd District.
But longtime GOP campaign strategist Dave Hansen says a group could spend upwards of $1 million in four weeks on TV and radio ads, direct mail and telephoning.
At KSL-TV alone, the NRCC has reserved $214,900 of ad time through Election Day, station officials say. That's nearly as much as the Swallow and Matheson campaigns combined have bought on the state's leading TV station.
Matheson objects to the NRCC ads, saying they are misleading and false. The NRCC telephone message says a U.S. Congress voting like Matheson would have seen no tax cuts or the ban on partial birth abortions. But Matheson voted for the main GOP tax cut bills and for the partial birth ban law now being challenged in federal courts, the congressman said.
His bank account flush with cash, Matheson was pleased with the tally, saying, "My effectiveness, honesty and hard work have energized folks from across the political spectrum to contribute to my campaign. . . . Obviously, people agree with my record and my approach of putting Utah first and not playing follow-the-leader for any one party."
Tim Bridgewater, who lost the GOP nomination to Swallow, still has $294,000 in campaign debts to himself, the FEC filings show.
The 3rd District
In Utah's 3rd Congressional District, where four-term U.S. Rep. Chris Cannon, a Republican, is being challenged by Democrat Beau Babka, the amount of money involved in the campaign is miniscule, especially compared to the amount of money Cannon spent rebuffing a GOP primary challenge by Matt Throckmorton.
Cannon raised only $85,905 from July to August, compared to $480,000 in the months prior to that when he was facing the primary challenge. Cannon spent only $96,286 from July to September, compared to more than $450,000 prior to that time.
Cannon's report shows his campaign is still $10,000 in debt, which campaign aides say is no problem at this stage.
"Given the reality of the primary we had and the substantial amount of money spent against us, it is not all that unusual" to be in debt, said campaign spokesman Joe Hunter.
A good chunk of Cannon's most recent expenses went to pay salaries for his children, who work on the campaign doing everything from answering e-mails to erecting yard signs. "They are the legs of the campaign," Hunter said.
Cannon has yet to spend much money on traditional campaign materials such as mailings, billboards and yard signs, perhaps an indication that Cannon, who enjoys a 38-point lead in the polls, does not need to raise or spend a lot of money.
Babka had only $5,231 at the beginning of the reporting period and raised only $18,819 more during the three-month reporting period. He spent only $21,000 during that same period of time, a total of a little more than $31,000 during the campaign.
According to FEC filings provided to the Deseret Morning News by both U.S. Senate candidates, incumbent U.S. Sen. Bob Bennett has raised almost $2.2 million over the two-year election cycle and he spent more than $1.7 million of that, much of it on a humorous billboard campaign.
His Democratic opponent, former Utah Attorney General Paul Van Dam, meanwhile raised only $32,483 during the three summer months and only a little more than $97,000 altogether. He has spent a total of $92,007.
Van Dam trails in the polls by 39 points.
Contributing: Josh Loftin