Big Spenders Don't Always Win Elections, But They Win Quite Often

Jul 24, 2019

Credit MBandman / Creative Commons

For candidates trying to get elected, spending money isn’t everything. But, it’s often a sign of success.

Candidates who spend the most money don’t always win. But according to an analysis of campaign-finance numbers from the Virginia Public Access Project, they almost always win.

Take the top-spending candidate this primary season: Republican Paul Milde. He was the challenger who took on incumbent Republican Delegate Bob Thomas in Fredericksburg because of the incumbent’s support for Medicaid expansion.

Stephen Farnsworth at the University of Mary Washington says the challenger invested heavily in direct mail. 

“And so there was a very high-dollar effort by Milde to flood the mailboxes in the district with lots of critical information arguing that Bob Thomas wasn’t a real Republican,” he says.

But don’t think spending a whole lot of money is always a sign of strength. 

“Sometimes a heavy-spending amount by an incumbent is a sign of trouble,” explains Jeremy Mayer at George Mason University. “They want to have a big war chest to scare off challengers. But they don’t always want to heavy spend, and if they are heavily spending that could be a sign of weakness.”

Top-spending incumbents during this year’s primary season include Republican Delegate Israel O’Quinn in Southwest and Democratic Delegate Kaye Kory in Northern Virginia. Both had to hit the campaign trail hard this year. Between the two of them, they spent more than $150,000 to get re-nominated in the primary.

This report, provided by Virginia Public Radio, was made possible with support from the Virginia Education Association.