The State: Even Politics Feels Effects of Recession

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The struggling S.C. economy could mean shorter-than-usual 2010 campaigns for offices including governor, U.S. Senate and the State House.

Why?

The down economy is cutting into contributions to political candidates.

Political fundraisers say they are working harder than ever, using new techniques to raise money, and still many regular contributors are declining to give.

Individuals have less money to give, as do businesses and political action committees.

“Candidates are working harder, keeping donors motivated,” said Wendy Homeyer, whose Columbia-based Homeyer Strategy Group helps raise money for more than a dozen members of the State House, most Republicans. “They’re having to open their Rolodex again and look at different methods of bringing in donors.”

Homeyer said many candidates are pushing for small, frequent donations, a fundraising method that helped President Barack Obama break campaign finance records.

Also, when they cannot collect a check now, candidates are looking to collect pledges for future contributions, Homeyer said. “They’re creating a payment plan.”

Elizabeth Donehue of Columbia also helps raise money for political candidates, as well as groups and associations. But, she said, last year’s presidential and State House elections have tapped out frequent givers.

“It’s tough and it’s going to be tough,” said Donehue, who fundraises primarily for Republican candidates. “We’re coming off this election cycle and people are burnt out. … Folks were just asked from all corners.”

Homeyer and Donehue said the tight-fisted political donors are making it more important than ever for candidates to bank the money that is available — and, equally important, keep it out of an opponent’s account.

For example, 1st District U.S. Rep. Henry Brown, a Republican from Hanahan, held back $500,000 from his tough November general election challenge for the 2010 election cycle, said Rod Shealy Sr. of Irmo, Brown’s campaign consultant.

Why?

It was obvious in November that political money would be scarce during the next cycle, Shealy said.

“That turns out to be a pretty crafty move,” said Shealy, who specializes in running shoestring campaigns. “The down economy could definitely impact the upcoming elections.”

Shealy has a long-standing relationship with another candidate eyeing a 2010 race — Republican Lt. Gov. Andre Bauer.

With fellow Republicans Gresham Barrett of Westminster, the 3rd District congressman, and Henry McMaster of Columbia, S.C. attorney general, Bauer is a likely candidate to succeed Mark Sanford, who is barred from a third term. On the Democratic side, state Rep. James Smith of Columbia is expected to run.

The governor’s race isn’t the only 2010 contest on the election card. Republican U.S. Sen. Jim DeMint of Greenville will be seeking re-election and is expected to draw Democratic opposition.

Less money and fewer donations will level the playing field among all the 2010 candidates, said Shealy. The longer the economy struggles, the more likely voters are to hold it against incumbents, said the Republican consultant.

Both Shealy and Donehue said the embattled economy could mean campaigns will delay the start of their television advertising until closer to election day.

“Pushing things back is a smart idea,” Donehue said. “It gives folks a break.”

Added Shealy: “It won’t shorten the campaign, but it will shorten the television campaign. To most voters, the television campaign is the campaign.”

By JOHN O’CONNOR
joconnor@thestate.com

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