Personal wealth could give Jacobs leg up on Iowa GOP race for U.S. Senate seat

But visibility is about more than money, Republican strategists say

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Mark Jacobs knows his competition for the 2014 GOP nomination for the U.S. Senate has a head start on him, but the former energy company CEO promises to be “working seven by 24 from now until the primary” to catch up and pass his rivals.

Jacobs, 51, of West Des Moines is the most recent Republican to join the race to succeed Democratic Sen. Tom Harkin, who announced he will retire at the end of his current term.

“I know it’s going to be a lot of tough work, but one of the things I’ve done over the past couple of months in the exploratory campaign was to get a feel for what it’s like to be out on the road, the windshield time and going to county fairs and chili suppers,” he said after an announcement tour event Tuesday in Cedar Rapids. “What I’ve found I’m having a great time doing that.”

The question in many minds is how much Jacobs will rely on shoe leather and how much of his personal wealth he’ll spend on his campaign.

Jacobs, who according to had a total compensation package approaching $10 million as president and chief financial officer of GenOn Energy in 2011, sidesteps that question. Instead, he pledges to “work my tail off to raise funds from the four corners in Iowa to make sure we have the right resources to get our message out on jobs and opportunity.”

He plans to raise money from people who would “like a new generation of leaders to address the problems that we have.”

If Jacobs taps his personal wealth he quickly can get his name in front of GOP primary voters, which will give him an opportunity to make up ground on the rest of the field, said Chris Larimer, associate professor of political science at the University of Northern Iowa.

GOP political operative Todd Henderson expects the resources gap to continue and, perhaps, grow as the campaign continues. It’s hard to make the case the others will raise the resources they need to be competitive when they haven’t put up those kinds of fundraising number so far.

The other Republican senatorial hopefuls have collectively raised less than $1 million during the July through September reporting period.

In the last quarter, Sen. Joni Ernst of Red Oak raised $252,000, former U.S. Senate staffer David Young $112,000, Ankeny attorney Matt Whitaker $105,000 and college professor Sam Clovis $75,000. Attorney and author Paul Lunde and salesman Scott Schaben, both of Ames, also are running.

Braley raised $900,000 and has about $2 million cash on hand.

However, viability is different than money, according to Tim Hagle, associate professor of political science at the University of Iowa, and Larimer.

Although Jacobs’ wealth will allow him to do more television, radio and mailings than the other candidates, Larimer said, “his viability will still depend on appealing to voters.”

“If he turns out to be a weak campaigner, his money won’t matter much,” Hagle said, adding that money can be a double-edged sword.

“You generally have to have it, and have enough of it, but more doesn't always get you the results you want,” he said. “Were Jacobs to just pour a lot of his own money into the election, his opponent could and would start making accusations about trying to ‘buy the election.’”

So far, it appears GOP donors are withholding contributions until a candidate breaks from the pack, Hagle said. Jacobs’ entry, he said, may accelerate that process.

If it doesn’t and the candidates remain bunched, Jacobs’ money may be more of an advantage in a last-minute push at the end of the primary campaign, Hagle said.

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