Dave Cortese announces big fundraising haul in Senate race

Candidates facing off in a tight state Senate race have eight months left before the primary election, setting off a full-blown dash for cash among the contenders — with Santa Clara County Supervisor Dave Cortese significantly outraising four other rivals.

Cortese raised $650,000 in funds through June 30, kicking off July with more than $600,000 cash-on-handCortese is leading the pack against San Jose Councilmember Johnny Khamis, attorney and former FEC Chair Ann Ravel, former state Assemblywoman Nora Campos and paratransit operator Tim Gildersleeve in the crowded Senate race to replace outgoing Sen. Jim Beall.

“Our campaign has undeniable momentum,” said Cortese. “Our message and my track record resonate. Homelessness, affordable housing, economic inequality, public safety and education: These are issues I’ve been committed to tackling as a public servant. I look forward to continuing that work in the Senate.”

Cortese, Ravel and Khamis on Tuesday released their fundraising hauls, three weeks ahead of a filing deadline this month. Cortese began fundraising in April 2018.

Candidates have until July 31 to report their fundraising totals to the California Secretary of State, but many disclosed their sums early, eager to flaunt a strong fundraising performance and extend their momentum into the second half of the year.

Khamis told San José Spotlight that he raised nearly $280,000 since January and Ravel took in more than $207,000 from 1,350 donations since March, according to her campaign Tuesday. Ravel said 81 percent of those donations were $100 or less, signaling that she has “built a robust, grassroots campaign.”

“All my life I have been driven by one defining principle – to fight for the people,” Ravel said in a statement. “I have always seen my job as an activist public lawyer, serving people by making a difference in their lives. I figure out what’s needed and fix it. I have taken on corporate special interest groups – pharmaceutical companies, big oil, Wall Street, the Koch Brothers’ network, big tobacco, lead paint companies – and won.”

Ravel, Cortese and Campos are Democrats, but Ravel is viewed as a moderate centrist, while Cortese and Campos are pushing further left. Khamis, a former Republican, is running as an Independent, while Gildersleeve has abstained from a political party preference.

“We are excited about the support we have received from various political leanings who are interested in accountability and fiscal responsibility,” Khamis said Tuesday. “We are proud of the momentum and will work hard to represent people and their needs — not political parties.”

Gildersleeve said he is not accepting campaign contributions, citing outreach and business-card pass outs as strategies to spread the message about his candidacy. Campos could not be reached for comment.

The Senate candidates are turning momentum into cash.

A poll released by Cortese’s campaign in April showed the progressive lawmaker holding a 13-point advantage over his opponents. He was followed by Khamis, who garnered 19 percent support from voters, and Campos with 18 percent.

Then in May, Cortese, Ravel and Campos faced off during a Democratic club, taking similar positions on housing, transportation, education and climate change. Differences emerged on support of a controversial housing bill from San Francisco Sen. Scott Wiener to increase housing around major transportation hubs.

Cortese and Campos supported the bill with some amendments — Cortese calling for changes on parking and height restrictions — while Ravel argued that the bill takes away local control from lawmakers.

The fight to raise the biggest war chest signals strong support from Sacramento and carves out the race’s frontrunners. While each race is different, candidates in a competitive race need to raise about 10 times more in a state campaign, experts say, as opposed to around $100,000 for a local seat in a semi-competitive campaign.

Garrick Percival, a political science professor at San Jose State University, said candidates with a strong donor base, high-name recognition, and previous experience in public office are “all of the necessary ingredients” to create a highly-competitive race that has a lot of money flowing in. 

On average, Percival said $1 million is needed for a state campaign, although those numbers can vary. Some races, he added, have exceeded $3 million. In 2016 alone, incumbent Sen. Jim Beall collected nearly $1.6 million in his fundraising efforts.

“It will be really interesting to see,” Percival said. “There are so many high-quality candidates in this race, that it kind of creates an arms race in money, as each one is trying to out-fundraiser the other.”

Contact Nadia Lopez at nadia@sanjosespotlight.com or follow @n_llopez on Twitter.

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