COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Millionaire candidates and billionaire investors are leveraging their considerable personal wealth to try to win competitive Republican primaries for open US Senate seats in Ohio and Pennsylvania.
Mike Gibbons, an investment banker from Ohio, leads the pack of self-financiers in both states after lending his campaign nearly $17 million. Three other wealthy candidates in the Ohio race: state Sen. Matt Dolan, whose family owns the Cleveland Guardians baseball team; former Ohio Republican President Jane Timken, whose husband’s family founded the steel giant Timken Co.; and “Hillbilly Elegy” author JD Vance have lent or contributed a combined $14 million to his campaigns.
In Pennsylvania, heart surgeon-turned-TV celebrity Mehmet Oz, former hedge fund CEO David McCormick and former real estate investment firm CEO Carla Sands report they have lent their campaigns more than $20 million combined.
Billionaire tech investor Peter Thiel, co-founder of PayPal, put money into a super PAC backing Vance, while billionaire hedge funder Ken Griffin has contributed millions to a super PAC backing McCormick.
The influx of money in the Ohio and Pennsylvania primaries illustrates the importance of the two Senate seats, which could help determine the party’s control of the chamber in November. The highly competitive races for the seats to be vacated by Ohio Republican Sen. Rob Portman and Pennsylvania Republican Sen. Pat Toomey are expected to be among the costliest races in this year’s midterm elections.
While money alone may not determine who wins, it can definitely help.
Sheila Krumholz, executive director of OpenSecrets, a research group that tracks campaign spending, said self-funding has become an increasingly attractive option for wealthy candidates because the lack of limits on personal donations allows them to “combat fire with fire” against the wealthy. super PAC and dark money groups.
“The massive spending by super PACs and outside groups with anonymous sources means candidates can never really stop fundraising,” Krumholz said. “They can never have enough money, so self-funded candidates have that built-in advantage. You’re not just raising money to fight an opponent or opponents, you need money to defend against attacks that could come from anywhere, at any time, in any amount of money.”
Some of the lesser-known candidates, like Gibbons and McCormick, have spent part of their fortunes on television advertising to get in front of voters. Higher-profile contenders like Oz and Vance have funneled money into ads to remind voters that they have the backing of former President Donald Trump, who remains popular with the Republican base.
In Ohio, Mandel, a former state treasurer, is the only Republican Senate candidate in the seven-person race who hasn’t taken out a personal loan. But he is backed by Club for Growth Action, the super PAC of the conservative Club for Growth, which has spent more than $4.6 million ridiculing its rivals, particularly Vance, ahead of the May 3 state primary.
For his part, Vance has the support of Protect Ohio Values, a super PAC in which Thiel has invested $13.5 million.
In Pennsylvania, the May 17 Republican primary for the state Senate was transformed by three well-connected, wealthy candidates who moved from another state (the blue states, no less) to spend their riches campaigning in the countryside. presidential battle. .
In their financial disclosures, Sands, Oz and McCormick report that they are worth tens of millions, if not hundreds of millions, and that they own properties across the country.
McCormick, who quit his $22 million-a-year job as the CEO of a hedge fund in Connecticut to run for Senate, grew up the son of a college professor, administrator and president who became the chancellor of the university system of the condition. McCormick often talks about working on a Christmas tree farm owned by his family.
But when asked last week if someone as wealthy as he can understand the average Pennsylvanian, McCormick told KDKA-TV in Pittsburgh that he “had nothing” growing up.
His campaign later said that McCormick had a “humble upbringing” and had been trying to explain that he worked for the wealth he now has.
A rival Republican candidate, Kathy Barnette, who has allied herself with pro-Trump arch-conservatives, took aim at what she called the GOP’s habit of choosing “the richest person.”
“How has that served us? Pick the richest person, just because she’s the richest person,” Barnette said at a forum in late March as she sat just feet away from Oz and McCormick.
Addressing voters, he said: “How many times have you called your elected official who happened to be the richest person in the room and asked him to stand up for you? And how many of them in the last two years have defended you?
McCormick and Oz are being pushed by the super PACs and the airwaves are covered with their TV ads, helping to put men at the top of the polls in the Republican primary. A super PAC supporting McCormick and attacking Oz has reported that he has spent more than $13 million so far, boosted by $7.5 million from Griffin, the hedge fund billionaire.
All the cash may worry voters, said Terry Casey, a Republican strategist in Ohio.
“Voters are rightfully skeptical of candidates spending millions and millions, because who is giving it to them and why?” he said. “So there’s the argument that if you’re self-financing, maybe you’re less polluted, but then the question comes up, ‘Is this an ego campaign or a vanity campaign?'”
Levy reported from Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.