Economy affects gubernatorial candidates

As the country’s economy shows signs of recovery, political campaigns continue to feel the effects of the recession.
November 19, 2009

When Mike Jungbauer entered the gubernatorial race last July, he didn’t know where it would take him.
Only four months later, Jungbauer has called it quits with the election still nearly a year away — not due to a lack of support for his campaign, he said, but because of money.
As the country’s economy shows signs of recovery, political campaigns continue to feel the effects of the recession. Donations are down, budget cuts are still in place and campaign messages are changing to catch the attention of voters in a time of uncertainty.
“It takes a lot of money to get people to know who you are,” said Jungbauer, a Republican state senator from East Bethel, Minn.
“We saw the writing on the wall,” Jungbauer’s campaign manager Mark Hayes said.
Tax-refundable political contributions in Minnesota are down nearly 5 percent from levels reported at this time last year, and with the holiday season in the remaining weeks of the year, Hayes said donations aren’t likely to be on the rise.
While Hayes said people were very supportive of the grassroots campaign, many couldn’t afford to donate in the poor economy, so they offered up their time and efforts instead.
Jungbauer, who calls himself part of the working class, said between working his regular job and tending to his legislative responsibilities, even he struggles to make ends meet.
But Hayes said he doesn’t blame supporters for not being able to donate money in these hard times.
“When you’re looking at keeping a roof over your head, feeding your kids, gas in the tank to get to work so you can make more money … it’s a little hard to even come up with five bucks for these people,” Hayes said.
As candidate forums began to move outside of the metro area in the last weeks of Jungbauer’s campaign, Hayes said even gas money became tight, and the two would meet and drive together to events.
With several months of campaigning left before the election next November, the fate of Jungbauer’s campaign could be seen again as campaign expenditures increase and competition heats up.
“People are definitely cautious of their resources and are looking a little more towards watching out for themselves,” said David Fitzsimmons, campaign manager for Republican gubernatorial candidate Tom Emmer. He said concerns resulting from the recession have made Emmer’s campaign even more important.
“There’s no reason that with all of our abundant resources and great people that Minnesota should be in a situation where we have people concerned about the next paycheck,” Fitzsimmons said.
In June, Gov. Tim Pawlenty cut political-contribution tax refunds for two years as part of his unallotments — an action that some candidates worry could hinder campaign donations.
The state-funded program that refunds individuals up to $50 each year for political contributions ended for donations received after the beginning of the fiscal year on July 1. The Minnesota Department of Revenue estimates that temporarily cutting the program will save the state $10.4 million over the 2010-11 fiscal year.
Candidates are not required to report their campaign-funding numbers until February.
The economy is not only affecting campaign pocketbooks — it’s also influencing their political messages.
Campaigns are focusing on the economy, and candidates from all parties are emphasizing different points of the recession to support their individual stances.
Larry Jacobs, director of the Center for the Study of Politics and Governance at the Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs at the University of Minnesota, said national politics are becoming increasingly influential in state politics, especially when they concern the economy.
“In the last couple decades, we’ve seen developments in Washington impacting state politics, and so the massive federal budget deficit is having an impact on Minnesota politics.” Jacobs said.
Candidates are emphasizing different parts of the economy to support their varying views, Jacobs said. Republicans are using the deficit and growing unemployment numbers to “effectively attack Democrats for ineffectiveness and irresponsibility,” and Democrats have emphasized the jobs being created by stimulus dollars, he said.

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