Ohio Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner (D) is trying to win a Senate race this year with what is a shoestring budget by the standards of today’s big-money, media-heavy campaigns.
Brunner reported recently that she raised $95,000 in the final three months of 2009, leaving her campaign with just $61,000 left to spend. Lt. Gov. Lee Fisher (D), her opponent in the May 4 primary, has 30 times as much money and the backing of the Democratic establishment. Former Rep. Rob Portman, the likely Republican nominee, has almost 100 times as much money.
But Brunner dismisses the conventional view that she isn’t a strong candidate because she doesn’t have a well-stocked campaign treasury.
“The Washington view is that the worth of a candidate is their fundraising prowess. But the voters don’t feel that way. The voters don’t care,” Brunner said recently during a trip to Washington, D.C., to attend a conference of the National Association of Secretaries of State.
“I only need enough money to win,” Brunner said. “And frankly, in this economic environment, it’s rather obscene when people start crowing about how many millions they have on hand.”
Brunner is very much the outsider in the Democratic primary. Gov. Ted Strickland (D) is backing Fisher. Numerous Democratic Senators, including Majority Leader Harry Reid (Nev.), have donated to Fisher’s campaign from their leadership political action committees. Brunner has sparred with Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee Chairman Bob Menendez (N.J.). The DSCC has reported making some “coordinated expenditures” in concert with Fisher’s campaign. Portman and Fisher have criticized each other’s record but have largely ignored Brunner.
But Brunner said she has enthusiastic supporters. She also thinks she appeals more to political independents than Fisher. She noted that Ohio has never elected a woman Senator or even nominated a woman for that office in a contested primary.
Brunner is eager to enter a new phase of public service. “I can do more than run a good election. I can do more than keep the files and the records of the state organized and accessible. I want to do more to make people’s lives better,” she said.