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 self-funding pack in both states after loaning nearly $17 million to his campaign. Three other wealthy candidates in the race from Ohio – State Senator Matt Dolan, whose family owns the Cleveland Guardians baseball team; former Ohio Republican President Jane Timken, whose husband’s family founded steel giant Timken Co.; and “Hillbilly Elegy” author JD Vance – have loaned or contributed a total of $14 million to their 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 that they have loaned their campaigns more than $20 million. dollars combined.
Billionaire tech investor Peter Thiel, the co-founder of PayPal, poured money into a super PAC backing Vance, while billionaire hedge funder Ken Griffin 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 fiercely competitive races for seats vacated by GOP Ohio Sen. Rob Portman and Pennsylvania GOP Sen. Pat Toomey are expected to be among the costliest contests in this year’s midterm elections.
Although money alone cannot determine who wins, it can certainly 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 “fight fire with fire” against the wealthy. super PACs and dark money groups.
“Massive spending by super PACs and outside groups with anonymous sources means candidates really can never stop fundraising,” Krumholz said. “They can never have enough money, so self-funded applicants have that inherent advantage. You don’t just collect money to fight one or more opponents, you need money to repel attacks that could come from anywhere, at any time, with any amount of money.”
Some of the lesser-known candidates, like Gibbons and McCormick, spent part of their fortunes on television advertising to present themselves to voters. Higher-profile candidates, like Oz and Vance, have invested money in ads to remind voters they have the endorsement of former President Donald Trump, who remains popular with the Republican base.
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In Ohio, Mandel, the former state treasurer, is the only Republican Senate candidate in the seven-person race who has not given himself 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 pillorying rivals, especially Vance, ahead of the May 3 primary.
For his part, Vance has the backing of Protect Ohio Values, a super PAC in which Thiel has invested $13.5 million.
In Pennsylvania, the state’s seven-vote Republican Senate primary election on May 17 was transformed by three wealthy, well-connected candidates who left the state — blue states, no less — to spend their wealth in a presidential battlefield campaign. .
In their financial statements, Sands, Oz and McCormick say they are worth tens of millions — if not hundreds of millions — and 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 the Senate, grew up the son of a college professor, administrator and president who is became the chancellor of the state university system. McCormick often talks about working on a family-owned Christmas tree farm.
But asked last week if someone as wealthy as him can relate to average Pennsylvanians, McCormick told KDKA-TV in Pittsburgh that “I had nothing” growing up.
His campaign later said McCormick had a “humble upbringing” and tried to explain that he was working 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 electing “the richest person.”
“How did that help us? Picking the richest person, just because they’re the richest person,” Barnette said during a forum in late March as he sat a few feet away from Oz and McCormick.
Addressing voters, she said: ‘How many times have you called your chosen one who happens to be the wealthiest person in the room and asked them to stand up for you? And how many of them in the past two years have stood up for you?
McCormick and Oz are boosted by super PACs and the airwaves are blanketed with their TV ads, helping put the men at the top of the polls in the Republican primary. A super PAC backing McCormick — and attacking Oz — said it has spent more than $13 million so far, fueled by $7.5 million from Griffin, the hedge fund billionaire.
All the money can be about voters, said Terry Casey, a Republican strategist from Ohio.
“Voters, with good reason, are legitimately skeptical of candidates who spend millions and millions, because who gives it to them and why?” he said. “So there’s an argument that if you’re self-funding maybe you’re less tainted, but then that begs the question, ‘Is this a campaign of ego or vanity?'”