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Tuesday, January 31, 2023

Campaign costs tell different stories

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First quarter campaign finance reports reveal varying price tags behind the efforts of candidates vying for two open seats on the New Hanover County Board of Commission.

Republican candidate Skip Watkins raised $21,684 from Jan. 31 to April 19. Donations to his campaign included $250 from Commissioner Thomas Wolfe and $500 from the Woody White for New Hanover County Commissioner committee.

Watkins said Wolfe approached him and asked him to fill his seat when he decided not to pursue reelection.

“It’s indicative of his support for me. [As for] Commissioner White, he is my personal attorney as well as my friend. That’s something I don’t hide at all. He believed in our campaign as well,” Watkins said during a May 12 phone interview.

Watkins’ campaign donated $250 to White’s congressional campaign and $100 to Michael Lee’s state senate campaign.

“We also made a contribution to Mr. Lee, because he made an exact-amount contribution [to] our city council race last year,” Watkins said.

Watkins held two fundraising events during the first quarter in addition to one-on-one meetings. He said fundraising events are opportunities to meet voters.

“Meeting the candidate means something. People want to have a vested interest. They want to know the candidate,” Watkins said.

Watkins did not contribute any of his own money to his campaign. First quarter operating expenditures totaled $9,301.

Dr. Derrick Hickey spent slightly more on his campaign but unlike Watkins, his initial efforts were almost entirely self-funded.

Hickey contributed $9,994 to his campaign from Feb. 27 through April 20, covering all expenditures. Hickey said he purposely did not fundraise in his primary campaign.

“I didn’t want to ask residents for their hard-earned money until I knew my message resonated among voters,” Hickey said during a May 12 phone interview. “Times are tough and … there was a lot of fundraising going on. There’s a lot of donor fatigue. I just felt it wasn’t a good time to ask.”

Hickey said he chose to spend time talking to voters and discussing issues instead of raising money.

“In tight races where 200 votes make the difference, getting out and talking to people on the soccer fields had greater dividends for me than asking people for money,” Hickey said.

Hickey did receive some unsolicited contributions. He plans to hold at least one fundraiser in his general election campaign.

Watkins and Hickey secured the two Republican nominations during the May 6 primary election. Dr. Chuck Kays, who placed 244 votes shy of Hickey, raised $40,547 and spent $34,456 on operating expenditures in his campaign. He personally donated $19,194 to his campaign.

Democrat Rob Zapple will face Watkins and Hickey in November. Zapple automatically advanced to the general election, along with Patricia Spear, and he has already begun fundraising.

Zapple contributed $5,250 to his campaign, which raised $17,396 from Jan. 1 to April 19.

“It shows I’m fully invested in my own campaign. It’s a little easier to go out and ask people for money, which is a miserable but necessary part of the job, when you’ve invested yourself,” Zapple said during a May 12 phone interview.

Zapple raised $45,000 in his 2012 bid for a county commission seat. He said he plans to surpass that amount in 2014.

“I will do whatever I need to do to run a competitive campaign,” Zapple said.

First quarter reports for 2014 were due April 28.

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