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Kephart 4: Effective Senate Primary Campaign Requires $1M-$1.5M…

Last updated on 2013.09.04

...But if you know your Twitter, maybe half that.

In our ongoing interview on his 2008 GOP Senate primary experience, Sam Kephart has weighed in on Republican insularity, insider advantages, and fundraising. Today he tells Nelson, Rhoden, and Venner that they'll need a million to a million and a half to wage a serious challenge against nine-million-dollar man Rounds... though Kephart offers a discount for those who know how to Tweet.

Heidelberger: Money isn't everything, but it matters. How much does a candidate need to mount a serious statewide race? How much money would it have taken for you to beat Dykstra?

Kephart: I ended up raising about $60,000, which was a pittance. However, I managed to get roughly 25% of the statewide vote for that. Joel spent just shy of $400K in the primary, so clearly I was the more effective candidate on a dollar-spent-per-vote-gotten basis.

If Joel and I had had equal amounts of money to spend, I think the race would have been much closer, but I believe he still would have beaten me because of his prior history with the party and the margin or edge his insider status in Pierre gave him.

If I had had say $1 to $1.2 million to spend in the primary, I believe I could have won it. I had some pretty big media plans with a seasoned and successful “guru” to run them.

My wife, Sammie, and I had dinner in early August of 2007 with Bill Hillsman from Minneapolis. Bill had run the wildly successful, out-of-the-box campaigns for both US Senator Paul Wellstone and for Governor Jesse Ventura. [See this link for his insightful book on campaigns for mavericks, Run the Other Way.]

Although I was way more conservative than either of those two Minnesota progressives, Bill liked my direct approach and outspokenness and thought an effective media campaign could be launched that would take my name recognition way past Joel in fairly short order... and have some fun in the process. Further, I have personally produced and hosted hundreds of TV projects over the last 30 years; I think I would have had a huge advantage over Joel in any air campaign, had I been able to foot the bill. Cory, you can just imagine the spots ;)

Sadly and very realistically, guys like Hillsman need six-figure down payments and I couldn’t pull my socks up, because I didn’t have any... at least money wise.

Today, I think someone would need at least a million to one and a half million dollars in their campaign kitty to stage an effective statewide primary, particularly if they are an unknown and they need a media blitz; while effective at building name recognition, TV and radio spots are very expensive and there are ZERO discounts for political campaigns because of the regulations.

Having said that, I suppose it might be possible to do it for half that amount if someone was REALLY a whiz with social media such as Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter, which really weren’t a factor in 2007-2008.