Update, Nov. 7, 1:20 p.m.: Ed Gillespie Friday conceded the Virginia Senate race.
When Ed Gillespie decided to run against Democratic incumbent Mark Warner for a Virginia U.S. Senate seat, his bid was universally hailed as a long shot.
No one, though, thought the American Crossroads co-founder, former Republican National Committee chairman and ex-lobbyist would have trouble attracting big money.
Conventional wisdom was off on both counts.
Gillespie — and Virginia’s U.S. Senate race — turned out to be the surprise of election night. Warner, a popular former governor who routinely led in polls, claimed victory by fewer than 17,000 votes, and Republican Gillespie has yet to concede. The election could be headed for a recount.
That Gillespie managed to mount such a serious challenge is particularly notable given his token support from outside groups like super PACs, nonprofits and party committees. Gillespie’s surge leaves everyone wondering if he would have upset Warner had such groups invested in Virginia’s race like they did in other U.S. Senate contests from Alaska to North Carolina.
“Shame on them,” said Howard Leach, one of only six donors to the We Can Do Better PAC, a super PAC started to support Gillespie’s U.S. Senate bid. “They should have put some money in Ed’s race.”
Reported outside spending on North Carolina’s U.S. Senate race, the most expensive in history, was $81.2 million. The total spent on Virginia’s U.S. Senate race, which appears to be the closest in the country? A measly $2.6 million.
The Gillespie campaign and the National Republican Senatorial Committee did not respond to a request for comment. The Washington Post reported the NRSC spent $675,000 in Virginia, including $100,000 the weekend before the election.
Leach gave $25,000 to the We Can Do Better PAC, which raised $140,000, most of which it spent on radio ads in late October.
Leach, a businessman and investor, is a former campaign cash bundler for President George W. Bush, who later appointed him as U.S. ambassador to France. His relationship with Gillespie dates back to Gillespie’s time at the helm of the RNC.
“I think very highly of Ed Gillespie as an individual,” Leach said, adding, “I wish that Ed had had more help.”
American Crossroads and its related nonprofit, Crossroads GPS, stayed out of the race entirely.
At least two of Gillespie’s former lobbying clients ran ads in Senate races, but they didn’t show Gillespie any love.
The American Hospital Association’s political action committee ran U.S. Senate-focused ads in Kansas, Alaska, Mississippi and Arkansas during the 2014 cycle, according to Kantar Media/CMAG, an advertising tracking service, but stayed out of Virginia.
The National Association of Realtors Congressional Fund, a super PAC funded entirely by the National Association of Realtors, ran U.S. Senate-focused ads in Mississippi, Alaska, Kentucky, Michigan and Kansas but also avoided the Senate race in Virginia.
Neither organization responded to requests for comment on the election results.
The biggest outside spender in the Virginia race was the Virginia Progress PAC, a pro-Warner super PAC that spent $1.8 million and aired about 3,400 ads, or one out of every eight in the race, according media data.