ST. PAUL, Minnesota — Minnesota Democrats have the financial upper hand in an election campaign where the party is seeking to maintain a firm grip on state government power, according to fundraising reports made public Wednesday.
Those reports show Democratic candidates and groups outraising and outspending their Republican counterparts in key contests. In most cases, the Democrats also have more money in reserve for the final six weeks.
Although money doesn't always signal the outcome of races, it is crucial in getting campaign messages out through television, radio, mailings and door-to-door canvassing.
With nearly $1.7 million in the bank, Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton had twice the amount of available money as Republican challenger Jeff Johnson as of Sept. 16.
But unlike Johnson, Dayton didn't have to navigate a primary to get his party's nomination. That allowed him to raise and save money. Dayton has $1.3 million worth of ad time locked in but not yet paid for. Johnson is airing his first broadcast television commercial starting Thursday, but would need to pull in substantially more money to keep pace with Dayton in the ad battle.
Since his Aug. 12 primary win, Johnson has dramatically picked up his fundraising pace. He scooped up checks between $1,000 and $4,000 from at least 160 donors in the weeks following.
Both Dayton and Johnson benefited from the public campaign subsidy program; Dayton got $534,000 in state money and Johnson collected $389,000.
The amount the candidates are raising and spending pales in comparison with the activity by independent groups.
The Alliance for a Better Minnesota, which is fed largely by labor union contributions, has spent more than $2.1 million on the governor's race. Of that, some $1.8 million has gone into advertising — more than $1 million of which was spent slamming Johnson on TV.
For Republicans, the big spender was the Freedom Club State PAC. Its spending has now exceeded $1 million. The bulk of that has gone to a television campaign criticizing Dayton and House Democrats.
But so far, two national players are hanging back from Minnesota's race for governor. The Democratic Governors Association has steered just $50,000 into Minnesota, and the Republican Governors Association hasn't even done that. It's a sign the race isn't deemed one of the nation's most competitive.
A seven-seat gain stands between Republicans and a return to the Minnesota House majority.
But the GOP is at a steep financial advantage. The main campaign fund for majority House Democrats contained $1.5 million in available cash compared to $633,000 for the Republicans. Democrats have already spent $765,000 more for the year than Republicans in shoring up their candidates being targeted.
Still, House races are particularly attractive to outside spending groups and several that want to see Republicans in charge are well-stocked. A collection of four business-minded political funds was sitting on more than $1.1 million.