Winning percentage of open-seat candidates when they out-raise a single primary opponent since 2006.
It turns out money has been an even better predictor of open-seat races when a runoff isn’t a possibility.
We previously looked at the track record for open-seat primary candidates based on their contribution totals in races where runoffs were a possible outcome. We found that 77% of candidates who raised the most money either won outright (24%) or made a runoff (54%). Candidates who had the second-highest contribution total won outright rarely (3%) but made the runoff at the same rate (54%) as candidates with the highest contribution total. We also found that just one out of every 20 candidates with the lowest contribution total advanced to a runoff, regardless of how many candidates were in the race.
We looked at every two-person open-seat primary race since 2006 for which the winner would go on to win the seat in November. Since there are only two candidates, one necessarily wins each race. We looked at the total contributions and total expenditures the candidates made during the election cycle up to the periods covered by 8-day-out reports filed a week before the primary election.
Raised and Spent More
Raised More, Spent Less
Raised Less, Spent More
Raised and Spent Less
The candidate who had the higher contribution total and higher expenditure total won 88% of the time. The candidate who had the higher contribution total but was outspent won 80% of the time. Only 15% of candidates who were out-raised by their opponents overcame that disadvantage.
Since 2006, nearly all two-person open-seat primaries have been for House seats. Just one open statewide office and three open Senate seats have been decided by a two-person primary. No open congressional seats have featured a two-person primary during that time.
We suspect that money is an even more significant predictive factor in two-person races because the leading candidate has essentially cleared the field. Open seats are typically easier paths to elective office than running against an incumbent, so they often attract a larger field of candidates than a primary race against an incumbent. When a candidate raises significant sums of money early in an election cycle, it tends to dissuade other potential candidates from entering the race. Candidates who do enter are already at a significant disadvantage and, owing to the short nature of the primary election season, unlikely to make it up.
In addition, many elected officials have to surrender the office they have in order to seek an open one. This tends to prevent clashes of heavyweights. Only once in the past six election cycles has an open-seat primary featured two sitting state elected officials. In 2012, then-Rep. Kelly Hancock (R-North Richland Hills) defeated Rep. Todd Smith (R-Bedford) for an open senate seat. Between them, they raised $1.7M and spent $2M. Hancock raised $257M more and spent $936K more than Smith.
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