Estimates in mid-September indicated that 43 percent of Republican candidate Elizabeth Dole's individual contributions came from donors outside North Carolina, according to the online campaign finance database Political Money Line. Thirty-three percent of Bowles' individual contributions are from outside the state.
More recent reports from The Charlotte Observer place Dole's individual out-of-state contributions as high as 57 percent.
"It's definitely representative of the fact that these are two campaigns truly national in scope," said Ferrel Guillory, director of UNC's Program on Southern Politics, Media and Public Life.
Pat Sellers, political science professor at Davidson College, said the amount of outside money raised by the two candidates is definitely high compared to other Senate races.
"It makes sense, though, because a one-seat switch could mean a change in power," he said. "This is a very important race."
During much of the last session, Democrats controlled the U.S. Senate 50-49, with one Independent who typically voted Democratic.
A loss of one seat by the Democrats would give control of the Senate to the Republicans, possibly handing them control of not only the executive branch but also both chambers of Congress.
"The more competitive the race, the higher the stakes, and the more national money is going to come in," Sellers said.
Since the beginning of the 2002 election cycle, Dole has raised more than $12 million, $9.8 million of which comes from individual contributors. Bowles' numbers are slightly lower -- $9.8 million, $4.8 million of which comes from individuals.
Individual contributions are up from recent past elections. In 1998, John Edwards raised $2.2 million in individual contributions while incumbent Lauch Faircloth raised $5.1 million. In 1996, incumbent Jesse Helms raised $6.6 million while challenger Harvey Gantt raised $7.6 million.
Sellers said incumbents usually raise more money than challengers because of their close connection to national interest groups and donors. "But even though there's no incumbent in this race, both (Bowles and Dole) are prominent national figures who know how to tap national fund-raising donors."
Bowles' and Dole's official disclosure reports show donations for both candidates from a wide variety of sources. Lawyers, housewives, small business owners and countless others from states across the country have donated up to $2000 to North Carolina's candidates.
Sellers said it's difficult to pinpoint the reason why someone from Ohio, for example, would be interested in the North Carolina candidates.
"What it comes down to is that, if you're concerned about national policy, this is the race to watch," he said. "In states where races are uncontested or already practically decided, contributing to Dole or Bowles is a way to make a political difference."
Guillory said that because of the nature of the race, both parties have reason to tap into their national fund-raising bases. This might include, for Dole, taking advantage of Helms' donor mailing list.
Direct mailing, personal phone calls and fund-raising parties are three of the most common fund-raising activities. Helms' campaigns were famous for their effective direct mail solicitation, Guillory said. "It really wouldn't surprise me if she were using Helms' famous list."
But representatives from both campaigns remain quiet about their fund-raising strategies.
"Discussing the specifics of our fund-raising strategies would be like opening our playbooks for the other side," said Mary Brown Brewer, a spokeswoman for Dole's campaign. "While we pursue a wide range of fund-raising activities, I can't go into specifics."
Some worry that increasing outside contributions takes N.C. representation out of voters' hands. Sellers said a large amount of outside support could make it difficult for candidates to decide whose voice to listen to.
"On one hand, when senators come back from the floor, they usually call their biggest supporters back first," he said. "On the other hand, whoever wins this year is going to have to win again in six years, and they won't do that by ignoring their voters."
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