By Kathleen Baydala Staff Writer
Though the qualifying deadline for next year's county elections is not until February, about half a dozen candidates already have declared their plans to run for office and begun amassing their campaign war chests.
Local political officials said the early start is part of a strategy among new candidates to build name recognition, commit voters and ensure a big enough bank account to carry them through to the Hamilton County general election in August 2006.
With a large number of municipal, county and state seats up for election in 2006, candidates may be eager to start fund-raising efforts earlier, Hamilton County Republican Party Chairman Bobby Wood said.
"A lot of candidates will be going after the same contributors," Mr. Wood said. "Most candidates feel they have to be able to get out of the gate early."
According to county election commission officials, all county seats are up for election in 2006 except a handful of school board districts and the assessor of property.
For incumbents, an early start to fund raising is usually a sign that a hotly contested race is on the horizon, officials said. "When an incumbent starts early, it could be that he believes he has a serious challenger," Hamilton County Democratic Party Chairman Stuart James said. "The incumbent starts early to respond and keep up with that person."
And the amount of money in a campaign treasury can make a difference in a hot race, he said. "The more money you raise, the more formidable of a candidate you are," Mr. James said.
However, if an incumbent starts early before there is any announced challenger, it could be a strategy to prevent any potential opposition, he said.
Candidates vying against each other in a primary should be raising money now because the primary election is less than a year away, Mr. James said.
"Thirty days (before the election), you should have the money you need to run that election," he said.
Those who are unopposed in the primary but will face opposition in the general election need to pace themselves, Mr. James said.
"If you peak too soon and run out of steam, you might find your opponent will peak at the right time," he said.
Local professor and blogger John Bailes, who announced in July that he will run for the District 8 County Commission seat, said he has plotted out his campaign and come up with a fundraising goal to pay for it.
"We want to raise $50,000," Mr. Bailes said. "The reason we need to raise that much is because this is my first run for political office."
Incumbent District 8 Commissioner Curtis Adams also has declared a treasurer but has not started actively raising funds.
Mr. Adams, who ran his first campaign for the commission in 1988, said experience tells him most people are not interested in contributing to a campaign such a long time before an election.
"If you talk to the average guy on the street, he's thinking about his job. He's not thinking about campaigns or politics," he said. "And people get burned out if you start (asking for contributions) too early."
Mr. Adams said he traditionally does not declare a treasurer for fund raising until the beginning of the election year. But he said he went ahead and submitted his papers for the upcoming election because "if a friend offers a campaign contribution, I don't want to turn it down."
Local political officials said the most contested race for 2006 could be the sheriff's race.
Sheriff John Cupp, a Republican, has not yet confirmed whether he will seek his post for another term. Meanwhile, two other Republican candidates have declared plans to run and have declared treasurers to begin fund raising, county elections workers said.
"The sheriff's race is going to be a big money race," Mr. James said. "There are several opponents in the primary, and there could be several Democratic candidates coming out of the woodwork soon. When you have two contested primaries for the same seat, it raises the price overall." Mr. Wood said he doesn't think the announced candidates are putting political pressure on Sheriff Cupp, but they could give the incumbent a run for his money by beginning to raise funds earlier.
Mr. Wood said a "cloud of uncertainty" has generated the strong level of interest in the local sheriff's race.
"It's one of the most powerful positions locally, and it is a very desired position," he said.
In 2002, the year of the last county general election, the average cost of all county races was about $21,900. The average County Commission race in that year cost about $16,500.
When Commissioner Richard Casavant first ran for the District 2 seat in 1998, the district's previous commissioner, Paul Nolan, told him that "$7,000 or $8,000 ought to do it."
Dr. Casavant said he quickly realized that a few thousand dollars would not cover the costs of putting out signs, brochures and billboards.
"It blew my mind," Dr. Casavant said. "Fortunately, I had a lot of interested supporters and was able to raise in the mid-20s over time."
Mr. Adams, who has served on the commission 18 years, said campaigns are becoming more expensive with each election.
In 2002, Mr. Adams ran the most expensive campaign of all the candidates winning commission seats, raising and spending $38,287.
"The cost of everything you have to purchase - signs, printing, everything - is higher," he said. "So, you have to raise more money."
Dr. Casavant was the exception in 2002, raising less than $650 and spending nothing.
"I was unopposed," Dr. Casavant said.
But he said candidates who do not face any serious opposition still should work to raise money.
"There are only two ways to run: unopposed or scared. I'm a believer that if you're opposed, you run full barrel," Dr. Casavant said. "I've seen too many incumbents knocked off."
However, fund raising does have a threshold of diminishing returns at which point each additional dollar brings in fewer and fewer votes, Dr. Casavant said. The hard part is knowing where that point is, he said.
"Certainly $100,000 is too much (for a commission race), but $30,000 is not," Dr. Casavant said. "It's just like if you have seven billboards. How much does an eighth help?"
E-mail Kathleen Baydala at firstname.lastname@example.org