By Brian Lazenby
Republican candidates for contested Hamilton County judgeships are outpacing their Democratic Party counterparts in fund raising as they gear up their campaigns for the general election.
Financial disclosure forms show that Barry Steelman, Republican candidate for Division I of Hamilton County Criminal Court, has raised more than $54,000 since Nov. 2, almost nine times that of his opponent.
Rodney Strong, the Democratic candidate for that seat, has raised $6,275, disclosure forms show.
Mr. Steelman has spent more than $23,000, while Mr. Strong has spent about $4,600.
“I am encouraged by the level of financial support for our campaign and because our strong financial backing is balanced by a strong grass-roots effort,” Mr. Steelman said.
Mr. Steelman said he thinks it is significant to have strong financial backing when judicial candidates are prohibited from personally soliciting donations.
Mr. Strong declined comment, citing rules for judicial candidates that prevent directly requesting funds.
“I’m afraid if I were to answer this, it would appear that I was going around the rules in an attempt to raise money,” he said.
In the race for Circuit Court judge Division II, Republican candidate Jeff Hollingsworth has raised $31,800 compared to $10,095 raised by his Democratic opponent Tom Crutchfield, records show.
Hamilton County Republican Party Chairman Bobby Wood said the success of Mr. Steelman’s and Mr. Hollingsworth’s fund-raising efforts reflects the public’s confidence in them as candidates.
“I definitely feel like any time a candidate is able to outpace his opponent with fund raising, it is a definite advantage,” Mr. Wood said.
Democratic Party Chairman Stewart James said he is not convinced that fund raising is as important in a judicial race as in other races.
“After the Steven Grant-Tom Crutchfield race, in which Steven raised almost $40,000, I don’t think it matters that much in a judicial race,” Mr. James said.
In last week’s Circuit Court Democratic primary, the 35-year-old Mr. Grant, who records show had raised $38,100 and spent $32,570, lost by 359 votes to the 56-year-old Mr. Crutchfield, who raised and spent much less.
Mr. Hollingsworth, who has raised almost three times as much as Mr. Crutchfield, said he is unsure what part money will play in the general election.
“In my race, I don’t know how much that helps me,” he said.
Mr. Hollingsworth, who is running his first campaign, said he hopes to explain his qualifications, experience and background to the people.
“And that takes money,” he said.
Mr. Crutchfield, the nephew of state Sen. Ward Crutchfield, D-Chattanooga, heads into the general election campaign with about $5,400 remaining in his campaign fund.
“We’re going to have to get on the ball and start raising money,” he said. “Fund raising is important in any campaign, and I anticipate that by the time this campaign is over, we will have raised all the money we need.”
Dr. Bruce Oppenheimer, a political science professor at Vanderbilt University, said there is no clear formula for winning a judicial election, but money is an important factor.
“People don’t vote for a candidate whose name they don’t know,” he said.
He said money can buy name recognition.
“The less visible the office, the more important money is,” he said.
Division I of Criminal Court and Division II of Circuit Court are the only two contested partisan races. The other seats are held by unopposed incumbents.
E-mail Brian Lazenby at email@example.com