A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

Webb, Santorum Spin Past Campaigns


Democrat Jim Webb and Republican Rick Santorum got the facts wrong recently when recalling the details of past and present campaigns.

Webb, who is considering running for president, knocked off Sen. George Allen of Virginia in 2006 even though Webb started the race behind in the polls and was outspent. But Webb embellished the facts in a recent C-SPAN interview, when retelling the story of his come-from-behind victory :

  • Webb said “we were outspent, I think, 10 to 1 in the primary.” That’s false. Webb was outspent by about 2.5 to 1, campaign finance records show.
  • Webb said he was “33 points behind” Allen when he got into the race. But that poll was taken more than almost two months before Webb announced. Rasmussen conducted a poll Feb. 8, 2006, the day after Webb announced, that showed him 12 points behind Allen.
  • He also said “we never approached the money that the other side was able to raise,” referring to Allen. Both sides spent heavily on the race. Webb and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee combined spent nearly $16 million, while the National Republican Senatorial Committee and Allen’s campaign spent $21.7 million.

Santorum also engaged in a bit of revisionist election history to support his opposition to Fox News’ plan to include only the top 10 Republican candidates in its Aug. 6 debate — a limitation that as of right now would leave out Santorum:

  • Santorum said if debate sponsors had only “taken the top two-thirds” of candidates in the 1992 Democratic primary, Bill Clinton “wouldn’t have been on the stage.” But Clinton was within the top two-thirds in the days before the first nationally televised Democratic primary debate in 1991, and the point is largely moot because there were only six candidates.
  • Noting the wide-open state of the Republican field, Santorum also claimed that “there’s nobody in the national poll above 10 percent.” In fact, however, Real Clear Politics shows three candidates — Jeb Bush, Scott Walker and Marco Rubio — all polling at just over 10 percent.

Webb’s 2006 Campaign

Webb retold the story of his 2006 campaign victory in a June 2 interview on C-SPAN that focused on his military, political and personal background.

Webb, a Vietnam veteran and former Navy secretary under President Ronald Reagan, announced on Feb. 7, 2006, that he would seek the Democratic nomination for U.S. Senate in Virginia. In the primary, he faced former lobbyist Harris Miller.

Webb, June 2: We had a contested primary. We were outspent, I think, 10 to 1 in the primary by a longtime Virginia Democrat.

That’s false. Miller spent $1.74 million in the 2006 primary, according to Federal Election Commission records, including $1 million of his own money. Webb, on the other hand, spent a little more than $705,000 on the primary, FEC records show. That’s not quite a 2.5-to-1 ratio.

(The Webb campaign reported spending $325,438 as of May 24, 2006, in a pre-primary report filed with the FEC. His campaign spent another $396,664 from May 25, 2006, to June 30, 2006, including $379,974 on what it reported as primary expenses, according to our analysis of his campaign’s July quarterly report. The Virginia primary was June 13, 2006.)

Webb himself got it right — or close to right — in 2006. The Washington Post wrote that Webb did not fare well among traditional Democrats in the primary, but quoted him as saying he did “very well” considering he was “outspent 3 to 1 in the primary.”

As for the general election, Webb told C-SPAN host Steven Scully that he was trailing Allen by 33 points when he announced his Senate candidacy.

Webb, June 2: I announced for the Senate nine months to the day before the election. We had no money, and no campaign staff, and we were 33 points behind.

It’s true that a Rasmussen Reports poll released on Dec. 9, 2005, showed Allen way ahead of four potential Democratic candidates, including a 31-point edge over Webb. But there were no announced Democratic candidates in December, and Webb was giving “mixed signals about his interest in the race” as late as January, according to the Roanoke Times.

The day after Webb announced his candidacy, Rasmussen conducted a new survey and found Allen was ahead of Webb by 12 points. It’s still a big lead, but not 33 points. In a press release, Rasmussen wrote: “Today, Allen leads Miller 48% to 35%. He leads Webb by a similar margin, 49% to 37%. It is significant that Allen’s support has now dipped below 50% when pitted either against potential challenger.”

Webb also credited volunteers, not money, for his victory, saying, “we never approached the money that the other side was able to raise.” The fact is that Webb and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee spent nearly $16 million combined to defeat Allen.

It is true that Allen’s campaign committee alone spent $16.9 million — nearly double what Webb’s campaign spent, according to Opensecrets.org. But the Democratic Party helped narrow that gap, and, as Congressional Quarterly reported after the 2006 election, it would be “misleading” to look only at the candidate committees without accounting for how much the national party committees spent on their candidates’ behalf. The party committees spent tens of millions “in ‘coordinated’ and ‘independent’ expenditures aimed at influencing the outcomes of individual races,” CQ wrote.

Congressional Quarterly, March 9, 2007: In Virginia, as an example, Republican Sen. George Allen reported spending $16.1 million in his narrow loss to Democratic challenger Jim Webb, whose campaign committee spent $8.6 million. But it would be misleading to say that pro-Allen spending outstripped pro-Webb spending by nearly a 2-to-1 ratio.

That is because Webb was helped by a $6.6 million independent expenditure campaign attacking Allen, which was waged by the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC).

In all, the DSCC outspent the NRSC $7.5 million to $4.8 million on the Virginia Senate race. That means the DSCC and Webb’s campaign combined spent a total of $15.9 million on the race, while the NRSC and Allen’s campaign spent $21.7 million. Webb was outspent, but he still had significant resources to capitalize on Allen’s blunders, notably his reference to a young Webb volunteer of Indian descent as “macaca.”

Santorum Spin

On “Fox News Sunday,” host Chris Wallace noted that Santorum has “complained more publicly than any candidate” about Fox News’ announcement that in the first Republican primary debate, which the network will host on Aug. 6, only the top 10 candidates will be invited to participate. The ranking will be determined by “an average of the five most recent national polls” leading up to Aug. 4, two days before the debate.

Wallace noted that according to the latest Fox News poll, which was taken May 31 to June 2, Santorum was tied for 11th (with 2 percent support), which means if the debate were in two days, Santorum wouldn’t make the cut. Of course, that could change in the weeks leading up to the debate.

Santorum argued that there are as many as 16 “really good people” either in the race or strongly considering a run, and that all of them ought to be allowed to participate. Otherwise, he said, history has shown the eventual winner might be excluded.

Santorum, June 7: And, you know, if you would have taken the top two-thirds of the folks in 1992, Bill Clinton wouldn’t have been on the stage. If you’ve taken the top two-thirds in 1980, excuse me, ’76, Jimmy Carter wouldn’t have been on the stage.

The idea that the media is going to go in and select a certain group of people and say, we’re going to make an arbitrary cut-off and those are the folks who are going to lift up, I just think, this is a fluid thing. There’s nobody in the national poll above 10 percent, and we’re not leaving Iowa and New Hampshire the role that they need to play.

It’s true that neither Carter nor Clinton were among the top 10 in Democratic presidential polls in the first six months of the year prior to the primary elections.

In an analysis of the history of primary polling published in April 2011, FiveThirtyEight’s Nate Silver aggregated three polls from the first half of 1975 that showed Carter ranked 12th with just 1 percent support.

Silver’s analysis of the 1992 Democratic primary also showed Clinton well back in the pack —  13th with just 1.7 percent support — according to three polls taken between January and June 1991.

But the political calendar wasn’t as far ahead as it is now. Clinton didn’t officially declare his candidacy until October 1991, and the first nationally televised debate of the Democratic primary wasn’t held until Dec. 15. By that time, the field of candidates had been culled to six: Clinton, Tom Harkin, Bob Kerrey, Douglas Wilder, Paul Tsongas and Jerry Brown. Looking at nine polls conducted in the second half of 1991, Clinton was well within the top 10, actually fourth, with 8.3 percent support (behind Mario Cuomo, second, who decided not to run). In other words, Clinton would easily have been included by Fox News’ rules by the time nationally televised debates actually began.

As for Santorum’s claim that “there’s nobody in the national poll above 10 percent,” that’s not quite right. The Fox News poll on May 31 to June 2 that was referenced by Wallace showed three candidates with at least 10 percent support: Scott Walker and Jeb Bush at 12 percent each, and Ben Carson at 11 percent.

Real Clear Politics, which aggregates polling data, showed on June 6 that there were three candidates topping the 10 percent threshold: Bush, 11.3 percent; Walker, 10.8 percent; and Rubio, 10.3 percent.

— Eugene Kiely and Robert Farley