During the two months of 2016, Democratic gubernatorial challenger Roy Cooper continued to receive more individual campaign contributions than Republican incumbent Pat McCrory. Both candidates saw an uptick in donations as the state's March 15th primary approaches.
The long-time Democratic Attorney General received more than $1.1 million since the first of the year, according to reports filed with the State Board of Elections. McCrory raised more than $731,000. Both candidates face primary challenges on Tuesday night, though each is expected to advance with relative ease to the general election.
While incumbents typically out raise challengers, McCrory trails Cooper in overall funds raised. "It doesn’t mean McCrory is broke; he’s certainly not," said Republican strategist Carter Wrenn. "He’s certainly raised a lot of money. But I don’t ever recall seeing a race before where an incumbent governor didn’t raise a substantial amount more than the challenger."
As in 2015, Cooper continued to raise more funds from smaller donations in 2016 than McCrory. The attorney general received 6,256 contributions of less than $100 while the governor received 2,585 donations.
"The total number of donors to the Cooper campaign also is promising to his campaign. He has almost three times as many donors to his campaign," according to David McLennan, Meredith College political science professor. "He can go back to these donors, since very few have maxed out." The maximum allowable contribution to any one committee is $5,100.
The average donation to the Cooper campaign was $179 to McCrory's average contribution of $283.
Morgan Jackson, a Cooper campaign adviser, said the attorney general's fundraising efforts are "historic" and "astounding." But it remains unclear whether a large war chest will result in victory. “Listen this is a very competitive race. We’ll start spending money as soon as we have to, and we’re obviously not going to forecast when that is at this point – but we are going to spend money early enough that we can get our message out to voters all across the state," Jackson said.
McCrory's campaign remains confident in the governor's competitiveness. “We’re very confident we’re going to have the resources to compete and win against whoever the Democrats and the liberals nominate on Tuesday," said deputy campaign manager for communications Ricky Diaz. "The governor has very strong fundraising numbers.”
The governor maintained strong numbers from the Charlotte area where he served as mayor for more than a decade. As in 2015, Cooper saw higher levels of donation from the Triangle.
The latest reports include funds raised in the first two months of the year. Any contributions of more than $1,000 between the close of the filing period and primary day are required to be reported to the Board of Elections within 48 hours. Both candidates have received several large donations in recent days. Tuesday's primary marks the end of a campaign finance period, but in many ways it is just the beginning of what is expected to be a very competitive face-off between McCrory and Cooper.
Aubrey Montgomery is a fundraising consultant at Rittenhouse Political Partners, a Philadelphia-based firm that works primarily with Democrats. She says that while fundraising now is important, the real work remains in the future. “Some of us make our lives around the business, but for the most part voters really tune into elections," she said. "The saying is during October baseball when your kids go back to school is when most people tune into start participating in the electoral process."
WUNC analyzed campaign finance reports which account for individual contributions to the campaign committees. Tens of millions of dollars in PAC money is also expected to accumulate in this contest, one of 12 gubernatorial races in the nation this year.
For analysis of the 2015 campaign contributions, see WUNC's earlier report.
Special thanks to data scientist Suja Thomas who contributed to this report.