Despite difference in fundraising totals, senate race still neck and neck

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COLUMBIA - In the final days before Election Day, the race between incumbent Democratic Senator Claire McCaskill and Republican challenger, Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley is neck and neck.

Both candidates are pulling out all the stops, from TV ads to campaigning with big name political leaders. 

But you would not guess it was so close if you looked at the amount of money each candidate has raised.

According to the Federal Election Commission, Sen. McCaskill has raised more than twice as much money as Hawley. In total contributions, she outraised Hawley $31,968,723.05 to $8,866,909.16.

In Mid-Missouri, it was for the most part, a similar story:

In Columbia, Sen. McCaskill raised nearly $1.8 million from 3,852 donations. Hawley raised $316, 425 from 134 donations.

Sen. McCaskill also outraised Hawley in Jefferson City and Fulton, edging him out by $96,269.76 in Jefferson City and $18,828 in Fulton.

However, in Moberly, Hawley outraised Sen. McCaskill, taking in $16,200 from six donations as opposed to McCaskill's $3,975 from 50 contributions.

In general, while Hawley did have fewer donors, they gave more on average than McCaskill's donors.

"Republicans tend to have access to contributors who give larger sums of money," MU Political Science professor Peverill Squire said.

In addition to examining the Federal Election Commission receipts for contributions to McCaskill and Hawley in Columbia, Jefferson City, Moberly, and Fulton, KOMU 8 News also examined receipts from all 18 zip codes in Boone County. We found that of the $317,925 raised by Hawley and his additional committees, more than half of it was donated by five couples.

"Certainly you would love to have lots of small contributions because that would suggest you have more voters," Squire said. "A single large contribution only suggests there is one vote behind it, but candidates are truly grateful for all the sums they raise."

Despite trailing in the FEC numbers, Squire says Hawley is nowhere close to out of the race.

"Certainly McCaskill has enjoyed far greater fundraising success than Hawley," Squire said. "What is salvaging Hawley's campaign is that so much outside money is flowing into this race."

Squire said the race has attracted a lot of outside money because of its potential national implications.

"All evidence points to this being a tight race that could help determine who has control of Congress," Squire said. "Under those circumstances, you get a lot of money coming in from outside groups."

Although Hawley has trailed behind McCaskill in fundraising, outside money has evened the playing field.

"Voters, for the most part, can't escape ads from either candidate," Squire said. "They have had plenty of money to reach the voters and increase voter turnout."

The FEC has limits on how much individuals can contribute to political candidates, but the rise of outside groups has led to new ways to sidestep them.

"There are ways of routing money that allow large contributions to get things into the campaign that they wouldn't if they gave directly to the candidate," Squire said. "Both campaigns have benefited from it this election cycle."

Different rules apply to different groups depending on how they are organized under IRS provisions. But despite their differences, they all must work independently of candidates they are supporting. However, Squire said that is not always the case.

"They're supposed to do things without coordinating with the campaigns, but it is easy for the campaigns to signal where the opponent might be vulnerable or what kinds of issues they would like to tap," Squire said. "It is a murky world, and it can be a bit for voters to figure out who is saying what."

To do so Squire said it is essential for voters to pay attention to who is sponsoring the ads.

In the past, midterm elections have seen smaller turnout than Presidential elections. So far Squire said across the country we have seen an increase in early voting and interest compared to other recent midterm elections.

Since there is no early voting in Missouri, we'll have to wait until Tuesday to see if the trend holds in the Show Me State.