If money raised by candidates is a good predictor of victory, then the election in North Carolina’s 11th Congressional District will be tough to call.

In the redrawn 11th, Democrat Hayden Rogers and Republican Mark Meadows are vying for the office vacated by retiring third-term U.S. Rep. Heath Shuler, a Democrat and member of the conservative-leaning Blue Dog Coalition.

Both candidates are seeking their first public office in the district that now generally encompasses much of the farthest Western North Carolina counties and roughly half of Buncombe County.

Both are nearly neck-in-neck attracting funds from a combination of individuals, groups, organizations and political action committees. The near-matching level of fundraising, said Ralph Hamlett, associate professor of political communications at Brevard College, indicates it will be a close election.

“People won’t throw their money at candidates they don’t think will win,” he said. “In this district, voters probably see each of their candidates as viable choices.”

According to the latest records, released through the Federal Election Commission’s  Campaign Finance Disclosure Portal, Meadows has collected $735,000 and Rogers $728,000 through individual contributions and funds from political action committees, or PACs, through Oct. 17.

Meadows’ entire coffers have reached just over $1 million. The difference being, largely, from contributions he made to the campaign (worth nearly $11,000) and a loan of $255,000.

Individuals giving most, but PACs add to base

Individuals make up nearly 70 percent of all of Meadows’ campaign contributions, records show. And nearly 65 percent of all contribution to the Rogers campaign came from individual donors.

In favor of Meadows was the division of the Democratic-leaning city of Asheville into two congressional districts by the N.C. General Assembly in 2010. The redrawn districts could shift the district further to the right leaving a gaping hole in Democratic support in the “new” 11th District.

But even with Asheville included, the “old” 11th District was among the most Republican-leaning districts in recent presidential elections.

According to the Cook Political Report [PDF], 50 percent of voters in the old 11th District picked Republican John McCain in the 2008 presidential election and 63 percent selected Republican George Bush in 2004.

“With the carving up of the district, it’s more conservative than it has been in the past and probably informed Shuler’s thinking to retire,” Hamlett said. “He saw the writing on the wall.”

Nevertheless, he said that Rogers fits well in the district since he, too, is relatively conservative compared to mainstream congressional Democrats. Rogers has also served as Shuler’s chief of staff and has more name recognition than Meadows.

“It would seem that Meadows should have had an easier task pulling away in the election,” Hamlett said.

In all, Meadows has doled out about $906,000, outspending Rogers by nearly $300,000. Yet some of those funds were used in a highly competitive Republican primary where he was one in a field of eight candidates. He later faced and defeated Vance Patterson in a second primary.

The finance numbers in this election align with the average funding in Congressional campaigns across the country. According to OpenSecrets.org, the 846 current U.S. House of Representatives candidates have raised an average of $989,059 and spent an average of $769,628.

This election, however, appears to be a bargain compared to previous campaigns in the old 11th District.

In 2006, Heath Shuler collected over $1.8 million in his defeat of incumbent Republican Charles Taylor who raised $4.1 million to defend his seat. And, in 2010, Shuler and Republican challenger Jeff Miller combined to raise over $2 million, according to OpenSecrets.org.

The chance to influence this election may have motivated political parties, unions and other organizations to spend money in the 11th. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has earmarked $12,000 to the Rogers campaign. AFSCME – the nation’s largest public services employees union – contributed $4,000 to the campaign and $16,000 came from AmeriPAC: The Fund for a Greater America.

The National Republican Convention Committee, a political committee devoted to increasing the Republican majority in the U.S. House of Representatives, transferred $5,000 to Meadows and provided a $5,000 contribution. Additionally, the Young Guns Program – an extension of the NRCC formed by House Majority Leader Eric Cantor and vice presidential candidate U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan – has supported the Meadows campaign and identified the candidate as one of the “GOPs best opportunities” to take a new seat in Congress.

Yet, the support from the NRCC and other Republican groups, Hamlett said, may indicate that Meadows “isn’t a given. If he is going to win they have got to invest.”

Even fundraising, even election?

Dolly Jenkins-Mullen, associate professor of political science at UNC-Asheville agreed that the election will be tight, although a Rogers victory, she said, may depend on how much of the remaining liberal base in the new 11th District shows up for the vote.

Of the $472,000 contributed from individuals to Rogers, less than $20,000 came from individuals with an Asheville address.

Yet, Rogers’ ability to raise a competitive level of funds without significant support from Asheville may indicate that he is holding his own outside of Asheville and might survive without its liberal support.

Jenkins-Mullen expects that voter turnout will be relatively high for the 11th in a presidential election, although it’s not clear which candidate will benefit.

“It will be an advantage for whoever (Romney or Obama) takes the state,” she said. “People are paying close attention to the elections.”

She also added that Rogers’ Democratic platform may also appeal to those who have been hit hard by the sluggish economy and, especially, in rural counties that have relatively fewer economic opportunities.

“It may seem puzzling that people say they don’t want government,” Jenkins-Mullen said. “Yet many who oppose big government benefit from public programs and may be willing to choose a conservative Democrat.”

Hamlett agreed: “Given the state of the economy, I wouldn’t be willing to call this election.”

Carolina Public Press sought comments from both the Meadows and Rogers campaigns. Neither offered a response.

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Jack Igelman is a contributing reporter with Carolina Public Press. Contact him at jack@igelman.com.

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