In the first test of the 2012 presidential campaign, the Republican field of candidates is lagging behind the fundraising pace of both Democratic and Republican contenders at the start of the 2008 campaign.
Indicating a sign of possible difficulty, the Republican candidates are beginning their campaigns with less money than the front-runners reported at this time four years ago.
This month, just one Republican -- Mitt Romney -- announced that he had raised close to the range of money achieved by candidates from both parties at this point in the last presidential election cycle. Still, his $18.3 million take fell short of the $23 million he reported on his first disclosure form in 2007 and below the $26 million and $25 million raised at the start of that cycle by Democrats Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, respectively.
The message from the first round of Republican disclosures for the 2012 cycle is that unlike prior campaigns, when candidates strove to post big numbers early to intimidate rivals, the early reports provide evidence of weakness.
Former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty, viewed by some Republicans as the leading alternative to Romney, said he had collected $4.3 million -- about $200,000 less than Texas Representative Ron Paul, a Republican with libertarian views.
Former Utah Governor Jon Huntsman, who stepped down as Obama’s ambassador to China earlier this year, said his donations totaled about $4.1 million -- about half of it his own money. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, whose fundraising for a network of think tanks raised expectations about his ability to raise campaign cash, reported being $1 million in debt.
Polls Show Wariness
The fundraising reflects what public opinion polls have shown: a desire among Republican activists for new entries in the primaries. A Bloomberg National Poll conducted last month found that more than half of Republicans were dissatisfied with the current field.
Fundraisers who have not signed on with a candidate may also wait, in case the cast of characters changes.
“For the big money to start coming in, the momentum money, that tends to follow a candidate who seems like a likely winner early on,” said Anthony Corrado, a government professor at Colby College in Waterville, Maine, and an expert on campaign fundraising. “None of these candidates have been able to cast that kind of profile.”
The Republican field’s fundraising is likely to lag behind Obama’s. The president’s campaign set a second-quarter goal to raise a joint $60 million for the Democratic National Committee and the Obama re-election campaign.
No Obama Announcement
It’s unclear how the money would be divided, and Obama’s re-election campaign has not announced its fundraising results. Ben LaBolt, a campaign spokesman, said the campaign doesn’t plan to telegraph the day it will reveal its donation totals.
Not all of the Republican presidential candidates have announced their fundraising totals for the second quarter, which ended June 30. The disclosure reports, which will provide such added information as campaign debt, will be released publicly by the Federal Election Commission on July 15.
U.S. Representative Michele Bachmann of Minnesota, who entered the Republican contest last month, has not announced a quarterly total. She had just weeks to raise money before the quarter ended, so she isn’t expected to have much.
Given the amounts raised by her rivals, Bachmann will be a candidate to watch, since she is one of the leading fundraisers in the House. In 2010, she raised about half of her $13 million from small donors, according to an analysis by the Campaign Finance Institute, a Washington think tank that studies campaign finance policy and tracks political giving.
If she can harness that strength, Bachmann could replicate Obama’s 2008 campaign launch in the third quarter of 2011.
In the crowded Democratic primary in 2007, Obama -- then a first-term senator from Illinois -- upended conventional wisdom about the race when his first-quarter total essentially matched that of Clinton, then a second-term New York senator and former first lady who had been viewed as the unrivaled front-runner. Four years earlier, then-Senator John Edwards of North Carolina orchestrated a similar strong first-quarter fundraising finish that moved him into the top tier of candidates in the Democratic primaries.
“The interesting thing is who emerges from the pack in second place, and nobody has done that now,” said Michael Malbin, executive director of the Campaign Finance Institute. Overall, “the Republican numbers are low,” he said.
Giuliani and McCain
In the 2007 first quarter, Romney, former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani and Arizona Senator John McCain raised a combined $53 million for their Republican primary bids. Based on data provided by the campaigns, this year’s field of candidates raised just $33 million in their first active quarter.
Republican campaign officials cite various reasons for their low totals. The economy is a primary culprit, according to officials from both the Romney and Pawlenty camps. Another factor is the late start of the primary season itself, which reduced the amount of time the candidates had to organize and attend fundraising events. Finally, some major fundraisers have opted to sit out the summer after favored candidates, such as Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour, decided not to run.
Of all the campaigns, Romney’s was the one expected to be least affected by those trends. In the years between his 2008 bid and this cycle, he kept his core fundraising operation intact by using it to generate cash for his political action committee, Free and Strong America PAC.
A $10-Million Day
Romney raised expectations for a strong fundraising quarter when he organized a dialing-for-dollars event in Las Vegas that generated $10 million in pledges in a single day.
When his donors began predicting totals in the $50 million range, the campaign tamped down such talk. Still, Romney was expected to match or exceed the $23 million he raised in his first quarter as a candidate in 2007 -- a total that included $2 million from his own bank account.
Andrea Saul, a Romney campaign spokeswoman, said the campaign is confident about its position. “We intend to raise $50 million or more for the primary campaign as a whole, and we’re off to a good start,” she said.
Of course, money doesn’t guarantee success.
Romney and Giuliani were the top two Republican fundraisers in 2007. Former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee, who had raised just $1.3 million by June 2007, went on to perform better in primary balloting, and McCain, whose campaign twice ran out of cash during the primary, won the nomination.
A Slow Start
Todd Harris, a Republican strategist, said fundraising does appear to be slow at the start of the cycle. Whether it is still so during the general election may not matter since the party’s nominee may not need as much money to be competitive with the Obama re-election campaign, Harris said.
“Barack Obama outspent John McCain by hundreds of millions of dollars, but the truth is, that’s not why he won. Even if they had both spent equally, Obama would have probably still won,” said Harris. “And, conversely, in a bad economic environment where his re-election will be a referendum on his successes or lack thereof, he may well need every single penny of his record-breaking war chest in order to be competitive.”