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Most money doesn’t always mean the most votes

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Posted: Wednesday, August 15, 2012 5:51 pm

By Jacob Brooks

Killeen Daily Herald

Who says money always wins elections?

A Texas Tribune report Tuesday showed that election winners don't always have the most money. Case in point: Incumbent Sid Miller outspent JD Sheffield, $277,000 to $27,000, in the recent State House District 59 Republican primary runoff election. The Tribune did acknowledge those numbers don't include the last eight days before the election.

Still, the numbers are interesting.

Sheffield's cost per vote is $3.20. Miller's cost per vote, according to the report: $38.73, the fourth-highest in the state. Sheffield garnered 8,673 votes to Miller's 7,153 in the runoff.

Sheffield said the key to winning was not how much money was in the campaign war chest, but rather, campaigning the old-fashioned way.

"Our strength was a lot of face-to-face efforts," said Sheffield, a medical doctor at Coryell Medical Clinic.

Sheffield said he and his team shook a lot of hands, attended parades, and went out every Saturday to a different town within the district, which includes Coryell County, to knock on doors and talk to people about the election.

On Thursdays, he made it a point to meet with various city and county officials, discussing the issues and learning what he should do to make a difference in Austin.

"That's what impressed people a whole lot," Sheffield said, adding many residents said they had never had a candidate knock on their door and ask them to vote before.

Sheffield said that he actually spent closer to $56,000 during the runoff, including $40,000 for direct mail and a TV commercial, more than $7,000 in newspaper ads, $6,000 on phone calls, $1,600 on radio ads and $500 on fluorescent T-shirts.

Miller, who remains in office until January, said his total expenses for the runoff were more than the $277,000 mentioned in the incomplete Tribune report, but he did not know the exact amount.

Money aside, partisan politics was at play in the recent election, Miller said.

The incumbent said his campaign money was spent well, but unexpected voter turnout, perhaps fueled by Democrats, affected the results.

Miller said his campaign expected a turnout of 8,000 to 10,000 voters, "maybe 11,000 tops."

He said there were perhaps 5,600 voters "that had never voted in the Republican primary."

There were 15,186 votes cast in the July 31 primary runoff, and 18,302 in the primary May 29, in which Miller and Sheffield finished a mere 180 votes apart.

In the 2010 Republican primary race, Miller defeated Sheffield, 56 percent to 44 percent, with a voter turnout of nearly 13,000. Miller, who has been in office 12 years, ran unopposed in 2008, when voter turnout was 7,667.

Miller said much of his campaign money was spent on advertising on radio, TV, newspaper, direct mail, phone calls and other outlets. Like Sheffield, Miller said he also campaigned by knocking on doors.

"We had all the conservative votes," he said, but the real difference came with the Democrats and Planned Parenthood backing Sheffield.

In this year's primary race as a whole, which actually began last fall, the candidates spent well more than the average Texan makes in a decade.

Miller spent about $560,000 compared to Sheffield's $150,000 according to available figures from the Texas Ethics Commission, the agency that keeps track of campaign contributions and expenditures. Those numbers are likely higher due to the final eight-day report not available yet. Sheffield said his total amount spent was about $200,000.

With all that spent, the election for the Texas House District 59 seat is not over yet.

Sheffield will face the Democratic primary winner, Bill Norris, in November.

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