RICHMOND – Less than $150,000 separates Virginia’s two candidates for governor, according to campaign finance reports filed by Republican candidate Ken Cuccinelli and his Democratic challenger, Terry McAuliffe.
Cuccinelli ended the year with $1.2 million in his campaign war chest, while McAuliffe had a little over $1 million, according to finance reports posted by the Virginia Public Access Project.
The numbers take into consideration all money raised and spent from July 1 through Dec. 31 of 2012. The candidates filed the reports Tuesday, and they were immediately posted by VPAP, a nonprofit organization that promotes public understanding of money’s role in Virginia politics.
As of this point, numbers aren’t telling us “much of anything,” said Thomas Morris, president of the Virginia Foundation for Independent Colleges and the former secretary of education for Tim Kaine.
“It didn’t tell us that much, except that … both of them will be well financed and that the campaign or the election is not likely to be settled on the basis of one candidate outraising the other candidate,” Morris said.
Geoffrey Skelley, a political analyst at the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics, said the money race reflects the opinion polls: “Any polling that’s been done so far has shown the two candidates to be neck and neck, so I’d say that the race is very close.”
According to Skelley, money won’t be the only important factor in the race for governor.
“I think a lot of what will affect this race is how national politics plays out,” he said.
“Virginia has a long history of electing a governor of the opposite party of the party that controls the White House,” Skelley said.
Morris said he would be surprised if one gubernatorial candidate pulled far ahead of the other in fundraising.
“McAuliffe obviously has the better known reputation … He has been a fundraiser and head of the Democratic National Committee, so he’s had a lot of experience raising funds,” Morris said.
But Morris believes the same goes for Cuccinelli, Virginia’s attorney general.
“The Virginia Republican Party has no difficulty raising sufficient funds to support its nominee as well. I expect both of them are going to be well financed by the time we get into the summer months when major expenditures begin to take place,” Morris said.
He sees one possible “wildcard” in the race for governor: Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling’s potential run as an independent.
“That would be a major area of concern for Ken Cuccinelli,” Morris said. “If [Bolling] were to run as an independent, that would change the dynamics, both in terms of the election and in terms of fundraising.”
Bolling raised about $750,000 toward a gubernatorial bid, but then decided not to seek the Republican nomination.
If Bolling runs as an independent, he could take support away from Cuccinelli’s campaign. “He would clearly be attracting many of the same donors that Ken Cuccineli would,” Morris said.
He also could attract enough votes to have a significant impact on the race.
“I don’t know if Bolling could win, but he would certainly change the nature of the race,” Skelley said. “I think he would probably hurt Cuccinelli more.”
If Bolling opts not to run, he could give his money to legislative candidates he supports, Skelley said. “I doubt he’d give it to Cuccinnelli. He’s not a fan.”