Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Ricketts Buying GOP Senate Race Before it Starts

by Kyle Michaelis
I'm pretty sure this is unprecedented in Nebraska politics - nearly 6 months before the May primary, Republican Senate hopeful Pete Ricketts has declared an all-out air war, bombarding local print, tv, and radio with campaign advertising.

It's clear Ricketts wants to use his spending prowess to scare off his Republican opponents and dry-up their fundraising efforts - effectively ending the race before it starts. Honestly, with "trust-fund baby" Rickett's family fortune in the hundreds of millions of dollars, it's not a bad strategy.

The AP reports:
Republican Senate hopeful Pete Ricketts fired a financial shot across the bows of his GOP rivals Tuesday in officially launching his campaign.

Ricketts, who is vying for the GOP nomination with Don Stenberg and David Kramer, took out ads in every daily newspaper in Nebraska and in several weeklies. He also launched a series of television and radio spots - all with six months to go before the May primary.

Ricketts declined to say how much he spent on the ads....

Ricketts has said he is worth $25 million, but said Tuesday he did not know much of his own money he'd be willing to spend on his campaign.

"I have an obligation to get my message out to the folks in Nebraska so that they can be informed when it comes to the election," he said. "I need to get out and make that introduction around the state so that people know who I am.

"I'm a household name in my household" only, he said.

He recently stepped down as Ameritrade's chief operating officer. He continues to serve as vice chairman and a member of Ameritrade's board of directors.

Stenberg spokesman Dan Parsons said it was not surprising that Ricketts was spending so much money so early.

"We expected him to spend several million of his own dollars ... to get his name ID up," Parsons said. "We are not intimidated."

Kramer said in a statement through his campaign manager, Sam Fischer, that he also was undaunted by Ricketts' early financial salvo.

"We are successfully building a grass-roots campaign," he said. "The activity or inactivity of any of my fellow candidates isn't going to change my strategy or message."

In reports filed last month with the Federal Election Commission, Ricketts led the GOP pack, having raised $373,000. He had $297,000 cash on hand.

Kramer had raised $172,000 and had $89,000 in the bank.

Stenberg had raised $135,000 and had just $12,500 cash left.

Stenberg and Kramer damn well better be intimidated, and - from the look of those fundraising reports - Parsons and the whole Stenberg campaign had better just be praying for a paycheck.

There's no getting around the fact that Ricketts is the favorite here. He has the money and neither of the other two candidates have "the goods" to overcome that...at least, not without some flawless campaigning and a couple strokes of good fortune.

As for Ricketts' commercial, I've got to say it's one of the best money can buy - the bit with his mother telling him to cover that bald head of his before he catches a cold is pretty good stuff as far as cheesy "get-to-know-the-candidate" moments go. Still, there's something almost repulsive about Ricketts' willingness to expend as much money as he has this far out from an election. Buying a race is one thing, but buying it this early is just poor form, though it may prove brilliant in shutting-down the competition.

In his print advertisment (quarter-page in the Lincoln Journal-Star) and at a press conference today, it's amusing that Ricketts emphasizes as much as he does eliminating the estate tax and making President Bush's 2001 tax cut for the economic elite permanent. On both of those issues, Ricketts is plainly protecting the interest of the Ricketts family and fellow millionaires rather than Nebraska families.

Come on, Pete...if you can afford to spend grandpa's money this early in your campaign, you can afford to pay your fair share in taxes. Let's give money back to the people who need it - for food, clothing, heating, school supplies - rather than those who are going to use it to play "Senator" because it sounds like fun.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

History shows, in Nebraska and across the nation, that millionaires have very little success in buying elections. The 2000 Nebraska senate race saw two millionaires take on Stenberg who ended up beating them by more than a 2 to 1 margin. The key to the GOP primary will be can Ricketts pull off what Hagel did in ’96? And the only similarities between Hagel in ’96 and Ricketts in ’06 is money. Ricketts is no Chuck Hagel.

Blogger Kyle Michaelis said...

Mr. Red-

While I recognize the factual basis for your argument and certainly agree on principle that money is by no means a guarantee of victory in Nebraska politics, this is really a question of Stenberg and Kramer's lack of appeal more than anything else.

For all of his millions, Ricketts is also a fresh face in a year when just being a die-hard Republican probably isn't going to cut it because of voters' dissatisfaction with Republican leadership nationally.

Thus far, Stenberg and Kramer have had to run against the Republican Congress because they are so closely tied to its failures. Ricketts does not have that baggage. Also, he does not have the stench of a loser that emanates so profusely from Stenberg after his two previous failed Senate bids.

In light of these factors, Ricketts' money simply cinches the deal in his favor - not absolutely but the balance certainly tilts heavily in his favor.

Blogger jayfan101 said...

Kyle, I read a Journal Star article recently that said that Stenberg has an approval rating of over 60% and his name recognition was a little higher than that. He is clearly the favorite. Ricketts will need to spend a couple million dollars just to break even with Stenberg's name recognition. If I remember correctly, Stenberg won a couple of statewide races huge and came within a point or two of beating a very popular Ben Nelson. You need to spend some time outside of UNL's campus and actually talk with some average Nebraskans. Kramer is a solid candidate as well...But I don't know if he'll have the resources to get the message out. Nebraskans don't like guys like Pete Ricketts, which is why candidates like him (ie. Jim Simon, George Grogan, Elliott Rustad, Dave Hergert, etc.) always lose big races. I predict Stenberg wins the primary huge and that the general election will be closer than 55%-45% either way.

Blogger Kyle Michaelis said...

I won't deny that I could be wrong about Mr. Stenberg's chances. The mindset of your average Republican primary voter is not my particular area of expertise.

However, I think people are vastly over-estimating Stenberg's popularity. In the past, Stenberg has piggy-backed for votes - riding on the backs of Chuck Hagel, George W. Bush, or the mighty legions of social conservatives.

This time out, he's not going to have the same opportunity to get carried across the goal-line by Hagel or Bush...and despite his proven "loyalty" to conservative causes (even before his responsibilities to country and constitutiton), I really believe the groups that were once the backbone of Stenberg's campaign will be inclined to pick a fresher voice with an actual chance of winning this time around.

Stenberg is a proven commodity - yes - but he's damaged, if not wholly inferior, goods. My reading of Nebraska Republicans (and it isn't confined to those in Lincoln) suggests they'd rather give someone new a shot. If that someone new just happens to have millions of dollars to contribute to his own campaign, it would be very un-Republican to hold THAT against him.

We'll know more in the spring. Thanks for joining me in the speculation.

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Kyle, you're right. Everyone is entitled to their opinions. It just so happens that your opinion is wrong. Sorry. When was the last time you actually spoke with a likely Republican Primary voter outside of Lincoln? Ever?


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