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Tom Campbell talks fundraising, TV ad strategy in Senate race

May 18, 2010 |  1:41 pm

Tom Campbell has been perched atop most public polls since he jumped into the Republican primary for U.S. Senate earlier this year. But despite his enviable front-runner status, questions have persisted about his ability to raise enough money to compete statewide in the primary and, should he win, in the fall against California Sen. Barbara Boxer.

In the last three weeks leading up to the June 8 primary, the former congressman faces former Hewlett-Packard chief Carly Fiorina, who has already put $3.6 million of her own money into the race. Fiorina has begun airing expensive TV ads, which Campbell has largely shied away from.

“Fundraising is not his strong suit,” said Adam Mendelsohn, a Sacramento-based Republican strategist, who is unaffiliated with any of the GOP campaigns. “The rap on Tom Campbell has always been that he’s a very capable candidate and he has an ability to appeal to independents and Democrats, but he has not been a very strong fundraiser.”

On Tuesday, Campbell brushed aside questions about his campaign’s finances. “We are executing on our plan and it seems to be successful,” he said in a Sacramento news conference.

Campbell's and Fiorina's rival, Assemblyman Chuck DeVore (R-Irvine), is running a low-budget campaign on a “tea party”-style platform in the GOP primary for U.S. senator.

Campbell said the decision not to engage with Fiorina over the airwaves -- the typical strategy for statewide candidates in California who can afford it -- was a tactical one.

“You have to decided where the highest rate of return is,” Campbell said. On television, “the clutter is unparalleled,” he said, citing the brawl over the airwaves between California Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner and former EBay chief Meg Whitman, the Republican candidates in the race for governor.

Campbell’s poor fundraising largely drove him from that fight in January, when he switched from running for governor to the U.S. Senate. Whitman and Poizner combined have put nearly $90 million of their own money into the gubernatorial race.

Whichever Republican emerges from the primary will face a well-heeled Boxer campaign. The incumbent Democrat ended the first quarter of 2010 with $8.7 million on hand. The next required disclosure of candidates’ treasuries is not required until late May, so a detailed snapshot of the financial strength of the Campbell, DeVore and Fiorina campaigns remains unavailable.

-- Shane Goldmacher in Sacramento