Spending Soars in Gubernatorial Races: UNC Reports
By Kavan Peterson, Staff Writer
Candidates in the 36 gubernatorial races in 2002 spent more than $833 million, shattering all previous records for campaign expenditures in a non-presidential race and increasing spending 41 percent over 1998, the last time these states elected governors.
In a report prepared by the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill, New York set the record for the most expensive governor's race in history at $146.5 million, outstripping the next most costly races that year in Texas and California by more than $35 million. The previous spending record of $130.5 million was set by California's 1998 governor's race.
"It's kind of staggering," said Thad Beyle, a political science professor at the University of North Carolina, who compiled the analysis of campaign spending with Jennifer Jensen, political science professor at State University of New York. The analysis tracked gubernatorial expenditures back to 1978 and found that inflation-adjusted spending has risen by 206 percent, from $272.2 million in 1978 to $833 million in 2002.
The report measured both overall spending, and campaign spending per vote.
Based on campaign spending per vote, the New Hampshire race measured as the most expensive, at a cost of $42.77 per registered voter. The average cost per vote nationally was $13.68, and the cheapest governor's race was in Minnesota, at $2.65 per vote.
A number of factors combined to make 2002 the most expensive off-presidential election year in history, Beyle said in an interview, including a high number of competitive races and open-seat races in 20 states where no incumbent governor was up for re-election.
Only 11 states had open-seat races in 1998 and 13 in 1994 and 1990, out of 36 states that hold gubernatorial elections during those years.
In addition to the 20 open races, incumbents in many states faced fierce competition to retain their seats, due to the year-old economic downturn. Incumbent governors were defeated in Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina and Wisconsin.
But contrary to conventional wisdom, the candidate that spent the most money in 2002 was not always the winner.
In New York, billionaire Independence Party candidate Tom Golisano spent a staggering $76 million, much of it his own, only to come in third with less than 14 percent of the vote. Incumbent Gov. George Pataki won that race after spending $44 million.
Texas Democratic challenger Tony Sanchez also spent $76 million, more than twice the amount of incumbent Gov. Rick Perry, who won by 17 points after spending about $28 million.
The biggest upset came in Georgia, where Republican challenger Sonny Perdue defeated incumbent Gov. Roy Barnes after spending only $3.5 million, less than 15 percent of total expenditures in that state.
Many of these governor's races were held in expensive media markets, and a big percentage of campaign cash went to TV advertising. It is not uncommon now for candidates to spend up to three-quarters of campaign finances on advertising, Beyle said.
"When candidates run for state office now they create their own political parties- they hire consultants, run their own polls," and spend most of their time fundraising to pay for TV and radio spots, he added.