All the drama in the Second Congressional District is on the Republican side. Since Rep. John Kline announced his retirement in September, local politicos have focused on which Republicans would — and would not — jump in the race to replace him.
Meanwhile, the DFL race has been stable, with the two candidates — Mary Lawrence and Angie Craig — plugging along since early in the year. Attention has been sparse, to say the least. So what’s going on with the 2nd District DFL race?
Reports from the Federal Election Commission — the most recent of which were released Oct. 15 — tell a story of two evenly matched candidates jockeying to represent their party in this toss-up, open seat contest that’s high on the lists of national Democrats and Republicans alike.
But Craig and Lawrence are taking different approaches to the race: Craig has sought to energize the grassroots and cultivate a diverse donor base, while Lawrence has aimed to build establishment contacts and tap into her personal and professional network.
Lawrence’s big-dollar strategy
Thus far, Lawrence — an ophthalmologist who used to work for the Department of Veterans Affairs — has raised an impressive $1.5 million. Currently, she has about $1.2 million at her disposal, almost double what Craig has on hand.
Much of that cash comes from her own pocket: Lawrence has made loans totaling roughly $1.1 million to her own campaign. But she has also found success in tapping into her and her husband’s expansive professional and personal network. Jim Lawrence has had a lengthy, successful business career, which has included stops at General Mills, Unilever, Rothschild, Pepsi, Northwest Airlines, and Bain and Company. With other Bain alumni, Lawrence founded LEK Consulting, which has grown into a global consulting firm with more than 1,000 employees in 21 offices around the world.
FEC records show that the Lawrences’ network has stepped up so far: $27,250 came from current employees of companies where Jim has worked. Lawrence also raised $226,405 from contributors outside the state, including many from the New York City metro area, where her husband built a successful business career.
That out-of-state cash could serve as an important cushion for Lawrence, according to Darin Broton, a communications strategist who has managed DFL campaigns in CD2 before. “Mary attracts a whole different group of folks from C-suite America that she can tap into,” he said.
“If you look at the folks who have written her checks … there are a lot of folks … at major Fortune 500s who have never given money to Democrats in the state, or even Republicans.”
Mark Warren, manager for the Lawrence campaign, pushed back against the idea that she is focusing on big donors. "Dr. Lawrence is making her case directly to the voters," he said. "People are getting to know her and she's getting a great response. … Donors are coming on board and we're continuing to raise money."
Lawrence has also benefited from the most basic support network there is: her family. Her husband and three sons each gave the maximum $5,400 per person — maxing them out for both the primary and general elections — amounting to a total of $21,600 under her own roof.
Craig aiming for a diverse donor base
Angie Craig, for her part, has been no slouch: She entered the race later than Lawrence, but has raised $834,867, and has roughly $633,000 on hand. FEC reports show the former executive at Twin Cities-area medical tech firm St. Jude Medical has courted small, medium and big-dollar donors alike.
Like Lawrence, she’s plugged in to a familiar network: St. Jude is a large Fortune 500 company, and so far, it has stepped up for Craig: She has received nearly $100,000 in contributions from St. Jude employees, from attorneys to vice presidents to the CEO.
But in the small-money race, Craig clearly has Lawrence beat. A key way to measure grassroots, small-donor support is to check candidates’ contributions from ActBlue, a Democrat-affiliated organization that acts as a conduit for Democrats’ campaign cash nationwide. Interested people can go on the site, pick a candidate or candidates, and use ActBlue as a one-stop destination for their political contribution needs.
Users of ActBlue sent $264,700 to Craig so far, giving as much as $2,600 or as little as $25. (Most contributions were in the $250 to $500 range.) Lawrence, on the other hand, received $86,625 from ActBlue users.
In a statement, Craig said, "My whole fundraising focus has been on engaging a grassroots base. A committed, engaged, and motivated party base are essential to winning next November and every area of our campaign reflects that."
Craig’s ActBlue advantage doesn’t necessarily signify greater strength, according to Jim Meffert, a consultant who ran against Rep. Erik Paulsen in the 3rd District in 2010. “[Craig] seems to be doing a better job of getting smaller contributions. … Lawrence seems to be relying on personal contacts and any money available regardless of where it is from. Ultimately, they will need to use both strategies.”
Self-funding the name of the game
One striking thing about both Craig's and Lawrence’s fundraising rolls is that both have struggled to get big-name, big-money DFL donors in Minnesota on board with their campaigns thus far. “I’m concerned Mary hasn’t raised a lot from Minnesota folks who are usual suspects,” said Broton, the DFL campaign hand in CD2. He added, though, that “Angie has not done a great job in hitting traditional DFL donors in the state.”
It is likely not for lack of trying, though: observers say big donors are likely staying on the sidelines until the DFL names a nominee, and/or when the GOP side of the race becomes clearer. “I think a lot of folks are waiting to see where the dust settles on the DFL side,” Broton said, adding that “there’s still a lot of donors waiting to be introduced to either Mary or Angie.”
There’s also a sense that donors may be wary of the deluge of outside cash that will flow into the district in the general election. “Depending on who you listen to, it’s either the number one race, the number three race, the number five race in the country,” said DFL State Rep. Joe Atkins, who mulled entering the race after Kline’s retirement but ultimately did not. “There’s an expectation we will see an open spigot of money if the race turns out to be as close as some think it’ll be.”
Since the beginning of the race, Lawrence has sought to fill in the gaps with significant self-loans to her campaign during each quarter. In the third quarter, FEC reports show Craig decided to do the same, lending $375,000 to her own campaign.
As to why Craig decided to self-fund this summer, Meffert suggests that she may have gotten donors asking questions about her fundraising hauls. “She probably got tired of getting questions about Lawrence’s money,” he says. Speaking with the National Journal, Craig said her campaign would continue to work to raise money, but suggested self-funding yields important resources. She told MinnPost that she wants to show supporters "that I'll have the resources we need to win."
A look at both candidates’ relatively weak fundraising summers suggests another reason both took out sizable loans: momentum — or at least, the appearance of it. After coming out of the gate with strong numbers, dwindling fundraising numbers, even if it’s a natural phenomenon at this stage, don’t play well — especially now that CD2 is a national priority for both parties.
All about the delegates
Though it’s definitely early (the DFL nominating caucuses are still six months away) observers are quick to emphasize that neither approach — Lawrence’s courting of big money, big name Democrats and Craig’s greater emphasis on small donors — is superior, and that Craig and Lawrence could be locked in one of the more competitive contests in recent Minnesota history.
Broton says that Lawrence’s strategy could boost her establishment credentials but turn off progressive activists. “It’s an open seat now, and one could argue that the quality of candidates on the Republican side is pretty weak, and a lot of Democrats are seeing an opportunity to pick a very progressive candidate to run down there,” he said. “I think Mary’s contributions from Pepsi or General Mills … having CEOs of some of these Fortune 500s is not going to help her win over progressives.”
At this point, it’s all about appearances and communicating to DFL nominating delegates that you’re serious, according to Meffert. “There are some people who look at it and see that the only way to win is to have money … call it electability,” he says.
According to Atkins, it’s close. “My sense is that, from delegates, that they are very interested in both candidates.” He stressed, however, that they’re less interested in the money game than electability at this point.
Another key piece, which Atkins and others mentioned, is that the expectation on both sides is that outside cash will flood into CD2 — so the eventual money picture will look much different. On the DFL side, Broton says that whoever gets the blessing of powerful national Democratic organizations — such as the Democratic Congressional Campaign Commission and EMILY’s List — will not only benefit from those organizations’ vast cash resources, but also their connections to progressive PACs in Washington and big donors nationwide.
Observers agreed that the next few months will be critical: Craig and Lawrence will have to maintain their strong fundraising numbers going into the DFL caucuses while putting in the work with activists. Broton called the balancing act a “double-edged sword.”
“We’re entering the process where both candidates need to decide their game going into the precinct caucuses and how to get folks excited,” he said. “But you have to raise money and show viability, so [you] can get blessings from the DCCC and others important in the race going forward.”