In Yesterday's Primaries, It Was Money That Mattered

The dominant media narrative about the round of primaries that happened yesterday is that the Republican establishment struck back, vanquishing a bunch of pesky Tea Party insurgents to reestablish the control of the sane and electable. That's one way to look at the results, but there's another, equally plausible explanation for who won: money. Because in pretty much every race, the person who spent more won.

That isn't to say that money was the only factor, or that the arrow of causality couldn't have still originated with the establishment in some cases (i.e., they funded someone who then won because of the money he got). But you could have predicted the outcome of most every race just by looking at the fundraising.

While we don't yet have final spending totals, the Center for Responsive Politics has numbers up through the candidates' filings at the end of April, three weeks ago; it's unlikely that the broad picture changed since then. Let's look at how things turned out in the major contested races, using those numbers:

  • Georgia: As of the end of April, Jack Kingston had raised $5.6 million and David Perdue raised $4.6 million, both more than twice as much as anyone else in the race. Perdue came in first, Kingston came in second; the two will now meet in a run-off.
  • Kentucky: Mitch McConnell raised $21.7 million, of which he spend $11.4 million. His conservative opponent Matt Bevin raised $3.7 million. McConnell won by 25 points.
  • Oregon: Monica Wehby raised $1.2 million; her opponent Jason Conger raised $360,000. As of now Wehby is ahead by 23 points, with some results still coming in.
  • Idaho: Incumbent Mike Simpson was facing one of the few serious Tea Party challenges, from Bryan Smith. Simpson raised $1.9 million, more than double Smith's $781,000. Simpson won by 23 points.
  • Pennsylvania: I'll throw in this important Democratic race, to see who will face vulnerable incumbent governor Tom Corbett, as a bonus. According to my reading of the Pennsylvania filing reports, Tom Wolf spent just under $13 million as of May 5. Over the same period, Allyson Schwartz spent $7.6 million. Wolf won by 40 points.

This is just what the candidates raised and spent; it doesn't include outside expenditures, most of which were in support of those "establishment" candidates. There were also some candidates who did better or worse than what you would have expected just from their fundraising. And to be clear, I'm not arguing that money is the only factor that makes a difference. But on the whole, the people who spent more won, and their margins of victory were roughly in proportion to the degree to which they outspent their opponents. Nothing about last night's results should have been surprising.