In North Carolina, big money mattered.
It fueled million-dollar legislative campaigns and lifted Republicans to record majorities in the state House and Senate, including key pickups in Mecklenburg County.
Political parties, especially Republicans, unleashed their firepower. And outside spending topped $14 million, according to the Institute for Southern Studies.
More than $12 million was spent on just 10 races.
Theres no question (that) party and candidate money, combined with this growing outside money, was a big factor in these elections, said Chris Kromm, the institutes executive director.
Nationally the big spenders had little to brag about.
The conservative American Crossroads, for example, spent $105 million. Less than 2 percent brought the intended result, according to an analysis by the Sunlight Foundation.
In North Carolina it was a different story.
Of the 10 races that saw the most outside spending, Republicans captured nine. One was even a race where the GOP incumbent House Speaker Thom Tillis of Cornelius ran unopposed.
In total, Republicans won 13 of 15 legislative swing districts as they boosted their majorities from 31 to 32 in the 50-member Senate and 68 to 77 in the 120-member House.
To be sure, money wasnt the only factor that firmed their grip on state government. Redrawn voting districts were key in expanding their congressional and legislative hold. And candidates such as Gov.-elect Pat McCrory ran effective campaigns.
But sometimes money played an outsized role, especially targeted on a relative handful of races.
Outside groups spent more than $2.6 million in the only Supreme Court race on the ballot $2.3 million of it backing incumbent Paul Newby. Only the governors race drew more outside money.
Newby beat appeals court Judge Sam Ervin IV 52 percent to 48 percent. Though officially a nonpartisan race, his win allows Republicans to keep their majority on the seven-member court.
Outside groups also invested in legislative races. So did parties, particularly the GOP.
Take Senate District 50 in the states far western corner.
There the state Republican Party gave incumbent Sen. Jim Davis nearly $800,000. At the same time two independent groups the Carolina Business Coalition Education Fund and Real Jobs NC spent at least $100,000 on his behalf.
The money helped Davis run TV ads on a Spartanburg, S.C., station and flood mailboxes with glossy fliers.
The TV was just relentless, especially toward the end, says Democrat John Snow, a former senator who raised $95,000. Though the independent group Common Sense Matters spent $60,000 trying to get him elected, he was outspent 6-1.
In Senate District 18, in Franklin and Wake counties, the Republican Party gave Chad Barefoot $774,000. That helped him amass a war chest of $927,000.
In addition, Real Jobs NC and the North Carolina Chamber spent an additional $125,000 to get Barefoot elected.
That meant incumbent Democratic Sen. Doug Berger, who raised $270,000, found himself facing a million dollar campaign. He lost 56 percent to 44 percent.
Super Bowl team
On the House side, Republicans compared the campaign to a football game. As campaign chair, GOP Rep. Ruth Samuelson of Charlotte was the coach.
We wanted to be a Super Bowl team, she says. We had a plan, and we worked that plan.
Samuelson monitored two dozen competitive races across the state. She raised money and helped decide where it went. She and other GOP lawmakers helped their own cause.
Unopposed herself, Samuelson contributed at least $195,000 in campaign funds to the effort. Tillis and Senate GOP Leader Phil Berger of Rockingham County each ponied up more than $1.2 million from their campaign accounts.
Late in the campaign, when Samuelson and others believed that Rep. Jonathan Jordan was in trouble, they rushed in.
Jordan was running against Democrat Cullie Tarleton, a former Charlotte broadcast executive, in House District 93 in mountainous Ashe and Watauga counties. He raised $114,000 in the last two weeks of the campaign, mainly from the GOP and its lawmakers.
The money helped him buy an estimated $68,000 of ads on Charlotte TV.
In all my years on Charlotte television we never ever had a candidate from up here spending money on Charlotte television, says Tarleton.
Jordan says the ads, and the money, contributed to his 52 percent to 48 percent win.
Every factor mattered, he says.
When it came to party money, Republicans had the advantage. They used it in winning Mecklenburg Countys two contested House races.
The GOP gave Republican newcomer Rob Bryan $132,000 for his District 88 race in central and southeast Charlotte. That fueled his war chest of $300,000.
Bryan went on to beat 10-term Democratic Rep. Martha Alexander by 10 points. She raised $35,000 but got nothing from the state Democratic Party.
The Democratic Party did send mailers for Democrat Robin Bradford in District 92 in western Mecklenburg. She faced Republican Charles Jeter, who got $55,000 from his party and benefited from $15,000 in support from independent groups.
He outraised Bradford more than 10-1, and beat her 52 percent to 48 percent.
The facts are the facts. (Republicans) gave more money, says Tammy Brunner, executive director of the state Democratic Party. They had more money to give.
Through mid-October, the state Republican Party raised $7.2 million; the Democratic Party, $4 million. Thats a mirror image of earlier election cycles when money flowed to the Democrats who had the power.
Many of the business PACs who used to support Democrats simply abandoned Democrats and supported Republicans, says Rep. Paul Luebke, a Durham Democrat. They want to be on the side thats winning.
Chris Fitzsimon, executive director of the liberal N.C. Policy Watch, says parties are morphing into money laundering machines that allow wealthy donors to circumvent contribution limits.
Raleigh businessman Art Pope and his sister Amanda Pope, for example, gave the party at least $125,000.
Fitzsimon acknowledges that former Democratic Senate Leader Marc Basnight and other Democratic leaders used to do essentially the same thing as donors and interest groups curry favor with the people in power.
Republicans are just amplifying it and fine-tuning it, he says. It was disturbing then, and its disturbing now.
Paul Shumaker, a Republican consultant who worked for candidates as well as for Real Jobs NC, says big spending is bound to increase along with diversifying media markets and new technology that can tailor ads to a phone or desktop. Add to that a state whose demographic changes will continue to make it competitive.
The lesson coming out of 2012 is, Welcome to the new North Carolina, he says. (Its) a competitive political state from the top to the bottom.
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