Democrats Have Financial Advantage Over GOP

Republican Sen. John McCain easily defeated his more conservative GOP challenger in Arizona's primary. In Alaska, Democrat Sen. Lisa Murkowski is fighting for her political life — that primary is too close to call. The battle for money is a big a deal as the fight for votes. The Republican National Committee has only $5.3 million dollars left in its campaign coffers. Its Democratic counterpart has more than twice as much.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. And I'm Renee Montagne.

LINDA WERTHEIMER, host:

And I'm Linda Wertheimer.

We may have a better sense, this morning, of the strength and limits of the Tea Party movement and the sturdiness of incumbents. In Alaska, where Sarah Palin backed another candidate, Senator Lisa Murkowski is fighting for her political life as the votes are still being counted.

MONTAGNE: In Arizona, longtime Senator John McCain easily defeated his more conservative Republican challenger, J.D. Hayworth.

Joining us to talk about the primaries, and also about party finances, is NPR News analyst Juan Williams.

Good morning.

JUAN WILLIAMS: Good morning, Renee?

MONTAGNE: So, what do we know about that Alaska race?

WILLIAMS: Well, potentially, it's a stunning outcome. As of this morning, the challenger, Joe Miller, has a slight lead over the incumbent, Lisa Murkowski, but that's with about half of the 16,000 absentee ballots still out, Renee - so the final result may not be known for a week or two.

Polls had Murkowski, who's, you know, one of the leading Republican senators here in Washington - up big. And she also outpaced Miller in fundraising. But she is in favor of abortion rights, and Miller was highly critical of her on that point. And there was also a ballot measure on abortion that brought out lots of support for Miller, who's a West Point and Yale Law School graduate. So, as of right now, that could be the news coming out of yesterday's election.

MONTAGNE: Well - and part of that news would be that Sarah Palin endorsed Joe Miller against Murkowski. What does this, and maybe other things that have happened during this primary - what does this say about Sarah Palin?

WILLIAMS: Well, you know, it's interesting. If you look at her record, especially in Republican primaries, she's doing okay. But what it really says is that Sarah Palin brings attention and some fundraising, and in most cases, Tea Party support, to candidates that she endorses. Does she necessarily have a determinative outcome - make them winners? Not clear.

MONTAGNE: How much influence, though, did she have on the vote in Arizona? She endorsed John McCain - of course, she was his running mate in the presidential race.

WILLIAMS: Exactly right. And so if she hadn't endorsed McCain, I think it would've been seen as an act of betrayal. But the real interesting point here, I think, Renee, is that it was a matter of subtraction for J.D. Hayworth, in terms of his claim to be the outsider. I think, as a result of not getting Palin's endorsement, he had less of the Tea Party momentum and energy to go up against the well-known John McCain.

MONTAGNE: Now Juan, you've been looking into the finances of the Republican Party establishment. How well-positioned is the party for the November election? I gather they're not doing so well.

WILLIAMS: Well, we're talking specifically about the Republican National Committee, and right now they've raised about 5.3 million and have that in the bank for the fall election, according to Federal Election Commission reports. But that's just half of what the Democrats have on hand. The big news here, Renee, is that the Republican Governors Association, led by Mississippi governor Haley Barbour, has about 40 million to spend, heading into the fall. So they're going to be major players, along with a group called American Crossroads that was set up by former Bush political advisor Karl Rove and Ed Gillespie. So, all of the sudden, you see people like Haley Barbour, Karl Rove and others, acting in a way to help Republicans get elected. But the Republican National Committee, which should be the lead group - and has historically been such - is at the moment taking a backseat.

MONTAGNE: And Juan, though, when it comes to the different groups having different levels of funding, why does this matter? Why does it matter that the Republican National Committee, say, is lagging behind the Democrats?

WILLIAMS: Well, as I said to you, there are other Republicans groups that can make up some of the financial disadvantage, Renee, but the Republican National Committee is the one group that's in position to help build data on voters, get out the vote operations, phone banks. Other groups, because of their tax status, are just able to specifically target money to one candidate or another. It's the Republican National Committee that's supposed to be the umbrella group and build that larger structure for Republicans, going into the fall. This may be a problem for them.

MONTAGNE: Juan, thanks very much.

WILLIAMS: You're welcome, Renee.

MONTAGNE: NPR's news analyst Juan Williams.

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