Where political cash bought a whole lot of nothing Tuesday

Money did not rule the day for candidates in primary contests Tuesday, particularly for the three-way Democratic primary in Portland’s Senate District 27.

That primary had most of my attention looking at campaign spending Tuesday night because my eyes are on the money (I also happen to live in the district). In this post, I’ll also give a look at money in races all over the state, which the BDN will continue to track through to November.

In those filings so far, Portland’s Senate District 27 is a clear standout.

Let me put it this way: Candidate Diane Russell’s campaign spent about one-third of the entire amount spent statewide on Democratic primary races, to no avail.

That’s not to say that’s the only interesting bit in looking at the total Senate race spending. Spending in the tightly contested Senate District 2 Republican primary — where Ricky Long apparently leads opponent Emily Smith — made up about 20 percent of the amount spent in GOP Senate primaries statewide.  Both candidates there had spent about equal amounts.

That’s what’s peculiar about the Senate 27 Democratic primary, where the huge money advantage landed Russell in third and made for a quite dramatic look at one of my less credentialed but favorite post-election metrics: dollars per vote.

There’s a wide variety of factors playing into those totals, but they provide some backdrop for starting to try and tell a story about a campaign.

In Senate 27, the fundraising divide came in addition to scrutiny Russell has faced over her maintenance of a political action committee, which BDN State House reporter Mike Shepherd found turned off at least one voter at the polls Tuesday.

See just how much of a standout that race was, compared with others taking place Tuesday.

The money in that race is fascinating — not just because it contradicts a notion that state elections can be bought outright — but because it for a moment puts the money in relief with the other elements of political power, giving us a brief view of some of its secrets.

At least, that’s what I think.

So, with results still coming in and some still disputed races, I’ve put together a look back at spending so far in each primary race, which we’ll pare down in preparation for the general election when Tuesday’s results are set in stone.

Consider these my campaign finance beta dashboards heading into 2016. That said, get in touch if you have any suggestions, questions or other perspectives on the data you think might help understand what’s going on with money in Maine politics.

Explore the dashboards below using the map of Senate and House districts as a guide — scroll to zoom in on an area and click a district to see the money breakdown for candidates in that area.

I’ll continue to update these through November along with our State House team. And if you find any thing that you think warrants a deeper look, don’t hesitate to drop us a line.

First up, the Senate. 

And second, the House. 

Correction: A previous version of this story misstated the likely outcome of the Senate District 2 election.

Darren Fishell

About Darren Fishell

Darren is a Portland-based reporter for the Bangor Daily News writing about the Maine economy and business. He's interested in putting economic data in context and finding the stories behind the numbers.