Inside fundraising in House 6A Range DFL primary

PHOTO: Lucas Hayas /

PHOTO: Lucas Hayas /

Last week at the blog we dove into a debate over who funds Iron Range campaigns. At the time we didn’t have access to the first major campaign finance reports. Well, the Campaign Finance Board released those reports Tuesday morning.

You can view them for yourself here.

So let’s explore the fundraising for Northern Minnesota’s most interesting legislative primary, the House 6A DFL contest.

Ben DeNucci — Nashwauk Mayor, saloon keeper, auto shop owner

Raised: $12,895
Spent: $5,495
On Hand: $6,400
Interesting tidbits: There were a few big jammers on DeNucci’s page, including several Nashwauk area small business people and Minnesota Power CEO Al Hodnik, along with some well known Iron Range property developers. The report also includes an amusing correction to an erroneous report that they had spent more than $39,000 on parade candy. (They didn’t). Having worked with the state’s data entry system, I know how that can happen.

Julie Sandstede — Hibbing music teacher

Raised: $9,611
Spent: $8,088
On Hand: $1,523 plus $1,000 in July 23 amendment
Interesting tidbits: Nothing too exciting. Education Minnesota and other unions endorsing Sandstede have some PAC contributions here. A couple $1,000 private donations from people I don’t know.

Mike Thompson — Car salesman from Iron

Raised: $3,680
Spent: $3,041
On Hand: $639
Interesting tidbits: Not much here. No lobbyist contributions. Thompson did net some PAC support from the Operating Engineers union, and $1,000 from the president of the region’s biggest construction company. Thompson spent $800 on Facebook ads, which has to be some kind of Iron Range DFL record.

Tom Whiteside — Former aide to U.S. Rep. Rick Nolan

Raised: $12,118
Spent: $6,392
On Hand: $5,725
Interesting tidbits: Indeed, as we discussed, Iron Range kingmaker lobbyist Gary Cerkvenik’s name appears on the report with a standard $500 donation. He’s the only lobbyist listed, but there was almost $2,000 in unitemized small donations from lobbyists. Rep. Nolan and his wife donated to the campaign. Onetime Independence Party candidate Cynthia Kafut-Hagen expended the remaining money from her unsuccessful 2011 campaign — more than $1,000 — into Whiteside’s account. Labor support evident in PAC donations.

So, a few takeaways.

First, a big caveat. These are the reports as of the deadline earlier this month. Campaign cash is just starting to heat up, and the big money sometimes comes during the final fight.

Surprisingly, DeNucci raised about the same amount as Whiteside and has more on hand right now than Whiteside. So the idea that Whiteside would have a major cash advantage is, so far, not proving true. Only the final reports will tell that story completely. When Rob Ecklund beat Bill Hansen last winter a lot of money poured in late.

Sandstede was a solid third in fundraising, but has very little left right now. Thompson raised the least and has less than $1,000 going into the last two weeks of the campaign.

People like to talk about campaign cash in campaigns as though it were a score. Campaign fundraising is not necessarily a predictor of success in the general election. Things like party index and the mood of the electorate can easily overcome a few extra mailers or campaign ads.

But campaign cash is a pretty good indicator of viability in a primary. Not because of the money itself, per se, but because of the evidence of organization and connection to some kind of political network.

Nevertheless, as I said before, it *feels* like Whiteside is ahead right now. Much will depend on what DeNucci has planned, and whether he can get his name in front of the voters outside his eastern Itasca County stronghold. Sandstede, too, is working from a nontypical political network, which adds a layer of unpredictability to her voter base. Thompson is left hoping that voters reward him for bringing up the lobbyist issue. He has very little money right now.

The primary election is Aug. 9. The winner will face Republican special education teacher Rob Farnsworth of Hibbing, who — for those keeping track — raised $6,086 and has $1,763 on hand. I would describe Farnsworth as a considerably above-average Iron Range Republican candidate, but the district remains solidly DFL in partisan index.

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