Dan Eichenbaum / Clarke Morrison
MURPHY — Dan Eichenbaum, one of the top Republican contenders in the 11th Congressional District primary, surprised opponents and observers Monday by announcing he’s out of the race, in large part because he can’t afford to self-fund a campaign.
Eichenbaum had been campaigning for months and had an extensive website, though the Murphy ophthalmologist had not formally filed to run.
He finished a close second behind Hendersonville resident Jeff Miller in the 2010 Republican primary. Miller lost to U.S. Rep. Heath Shuler, D-Waynesville, in the general election.
“Over the past several months of the campaign, listening to the other candidates for Congress in N.C. 11, I find increasingly little difference, on paper or in words, between the positions I have consistently held and theirs,” Eichenbaum said.
“More importantly, I am unable to self-fund sufficiently to compete against those who can,” he said. “As such, I see no clear path to victory in the primary.”
His announcement leaves eight Republicans vying for their party’s nod in the May 8 primary. Eichenbaum had strong support from tea party activists.
“He would’ve been certainly one of the top favorites, simply because of his name recognition, even though he didn’t win the last time,” said Bill Sabo, a political scientist at UNC Asheville. “It’s very possible that with such a large number of individuals running, that would be cutting into his support.”
Winning House contestants in the 2009-10 electoral cycle spent an average of $1.4 million, said Chris Cooper, a political scientist at Western Carolina University.
“Even controlling for inflation, expenditures for congressional campaigns have more than doubled over the last 30 years,” Cooper said.
The large field certainly wasn’t helping Eichenbaum or any other candidates who will have to spend heavily just to win the primary.
The Republican candidates have been socking away the campaign cash and loaning their campaigns thousands of dollars.
Jackson County real estate investor Mark Meadows outpaced his competitors in 2011, bringing in $321,832, including a $250,000 loan he made to his campaign in September.
Republican businessman Ethan Wingfield came in second with $240,019, including a $125,000 loan he made to his his campaign Dec. 31. Eichenbaum tallied more than $134,000, including a $70,000 loan he made to his campaign in late 2011.
Jeff Hunt, district attorney for Henderson, Transylvania and Polk counties, took in more than $111,000, including an $11,600 loan last September.
Generally speaking, Sabo said, self-funding matters very little in political campaigns, “mostly because there is so much outside money available from the parties and interest groups.”
“However — and this is a big ‘however’ — the only time it matters is in a crowded primary, especially for an open seat,” Sabo said. “The most expensive House races are open-seat contests, like this one in the 11th will be.”
Shuler, first elected in 2006, announced earlier this month he will not run for re-election.
Big donors likely will wait for the primary to winnow the field before committing serious dollars.
The other Republican candidates are Hendersonville resident Spence Campbell, Morganton resident Vance Patterson, McDowell County resident Susan Harris, Marion resident Chris Petrella and Kenny West, of Hayesville.
Asheville City Councilman Cecil Bothwell, Hudson resident Heath Wynn and Brasstown resident Hayden Rogers, Shuler’s chief of staff, are competing in the Democratic primary.
While Eichenbaum had a strong connection with tea party voters, both Sabo and Cooper said that movement still carries weight but it’s not been able to advance its national candidates or raise and channel funds in a highly organized fashion.
The emphasis on money-raising, while a harsh reality of politics, isn’t great for anyone, or democracy in general, Cooper said.
“Money is not going to win you an election, but the lack of it can cost you an election,” Cooper said.