AUSTIN -- If you want the quickest overall indicator of a political player's strength, just take a cue from Rod Tidwell.
"Show me the money."
With the reporting deadline at hand for campaign finance statements covering the period between July and December 2013, that's exactly what campaigns up and down the ballot are doing this week. Unsurprisingly, the top Republican and Democrat in the race for governor brought in the biggest hauls.
"Money is the lifeblood of a political campaign. Everything you do costs money," said professor James R. Henson, director of the Texas Politics Project at the University of Texas.
Since finances are such an important gauge of a campaign's relative strength, fundraising figures are often heavily politicized.
Declaring her campaign for governor in October, state Sen. Wendy Davis (D-Fort Worth) reported raising $12.2 million between July and December. The overall number consists of $8.7 million raised by her campaign and $3.5 million raised by a separate Texas Victory Committee organized to raise money for Democratic get-out-the-vote efforts dedicated to her election. Davis ended 2013 with $9.5 million cash on hand.
"It shows for Wendy Davis that she can raise money, and it will encourage, hopefully, from her perspective, others to continue to give to her campaign," said Henson. "Because, even though her numbers were positive, she's still got a long way to go."
Based upon campaign spending in the 2010 gubernatorial race between Republican Gov. Rick Perry and Democratic Houston mayor Bill White, it's been estimated Davis may need roughly between $35 million and $40 million to wage a competitive race against Republican attorney general Greg Abbott.
The combined totals have been criticized by Davis' opponents as inflating her actual fundraising numbers, but Davis' campaign says the money was raised by Davis and will be spent toward her election nonetheless. Henson suggests there's logic to the Davis campaign's claim.
"The Democrats really have a task in this race, and it's always been part of the rationale of Wendy Davis running, and that task is to rebuild the Democratic infrastructure -- that is, the organizational resources of the Democratic party. The Republicans don't have to do that," Henson said. "Wendy Davis has to both mount a campaign and rebuild the backbone of the Democratic party. So, it makes sense that they're doing a couple of different things that they have a couple of different funds to do that."
Abbott's war chest was already significant when he began his campaign in July. The Republican nominee reported raising $11.5 million in the second half of 2013 and finishing with $27 million on hand. It's a sign Abbott isn't resting easy on his comfortable financial advantage, and enters 2014 with his foot on the gas.
"It was also a signal of strength," said Henson. "At this phase, it's really a series of inside signals to other donors, to the media, to other political figures about just how viable the campaigns are. Both campaigns have passed that threshold."
The numbers ultimately leave bragging room for both candidates, as they hope to convince additional donors their money would be well spent on the Texas race.