Fundraising figures for 2008 presidential candidates were due last Friday, and now everyone has their forms in and the data has been compiled. In many ways, how successful candidates in such a large field are at raising money is a far more significant indicator than where they stand in the polls, because it represents their ability to stay in the election, advertise to attract new votes, and the seriousness of the people backing them.
An average of the five most recent polls from major polling groups provides the following rankings for the candidates in the two parties:
Republican: Giuliani 27%, F. Thompson 18%, McCain 14%, Romney 10%, Gingrich 6%, Huckabee 3%, Paul 2%. Everyone else has 1% or less.
Democrat: Clinton 38%, Obama 25%, Edwards 13%, Richardson 3%, Biden 2%. Everyone else has 1% or less.
These positions should be pretty familiar. They’ve stayed awfully close to the same order for the past few months, with the one shakeup being the addition of Fred Thompson as an as yet unofficial Republican front runner.
This has been the most active campaign of all time in terms of fundraising, with more money raised earlier than ever before. The fundraising figures add some details and significant differences to the picture. Based on total fundraising to date the rankings for the candidates are:
Republican: Romney $44 million (38%), Giuliani $35 million (30%), McCain $ 25 million (22%), Brownback $3.3 million (3%), Paul $3 million (3%), Tancredo $2 million 2%), Hunter, $1.3 million (1%), Huckabee $1.3 million (1%). Others had less than $1 million.
Democrat: Clinton $63 million (27%), Obama $59 million (25%), Edwards $23 million (10%), Richardson $13 million (6%), Dodd $4.3 million (2%), Biden $2.5 million (1%). Others had less than $1 million.
The most striking difference between fundraising and polling occurs in the Republican group, where Romney comes in a strong first in fundraising, but a distant fourth in the polls, or third if you take out Fred Thompson who hasn’t officially declared yet. That suggests that he is much more of a contender than he might be otherwise. The percentages also show that the much touted fundraising success of Ron Paul isn’t quite as impressive as it seems. His fundraising is great compared to what might have been expected, but almost tying Sam Brownback for fourth place and remaining 7th in the polls doesn’t suggest an impending dark horse victory. However, one thing which sets him apart from other candidates which isn’t reflected in these figures is that he has spent very little of his money and has borrowed none at all. He has close to $3 million still available to spend, which actually puts him in third place if you subtract McCain’s campaign debts from his remaining cash. That means that even if he doesn’t leap ahead, Paul is likely to be around as a contender right up to the convention.
What the Democrat figures show is an election which is much closer than the polls might suggest, at least between the front runners. Clinton’s poll lead may mostly be the result of name recognition which is an advantage which doesn’t necessarily carry over to fundraising. The Democratic dark horse is probably Bill Richardson, and while he isn’t exactly knocking down the gates, his $13 million is a pretty significant war chest and might be enough to keep him in the election long enough to make up some ground.
What the fundraising does make absolutely clear is that there isn’t a lot of point in the lower ranking candidates staying in the election. If you can’t raise more than a million dollars or so and you are polling at 1%, what the hell are you still doing in the campaign? Expect the also-rans to start dropping out as their expenses exceed their ability to raise new money. Fanaticism alone isn’t enough to sustain a Tancredo or Gravel when money starts to run out. They may not officially drop out, but you’ll know it’s over when they stop making public appearances because they can’t afford bus fare anymore.
It’s too soon to guess who the winners are, but it is starting to look an awful lot like a two way race for the Democrats between Clinton and Obama, while the Republican race is a bit murkier, but likely to come down to three or four real contenders depending on how Fred Thompson’s fundraising goes once he gets into the race.
The fundraising reports also provide some other interesting information. If you’re a typical American and make your voting decisions based on which celebrities support which candidates, we’ve got some information to guide your decisions. Financial leaders are spreading their influence around, but Obama is leading in support from the super wealthy, with Bill Gates, Warren Buffett and George Soros backing him. But large corporate contributors like Giuliani, with 48% of those giving maximum contributions favoring him. Prominent families are also picking candidates. The Kennedys seem to like Dodd, the Roosevelts like Obama, and the Forbeses like Giuliani. Prominent celebrity lawyers seem to vote Democrat (can you say death to tort reform?), with Alan Dershowitz supporting Clinton and Lawrence Tribe contributing to Obama. If prominent progressive/socialist Tom Hayden is an indicator then the ideological left likes Obama. Judging by William F. Buckley the intellectual right likes McCain. On the whole, Hollywood likes Obama with top stars and executives like Susan Sarandon, Tom Hanks, and Michael Eisner making substantial contributions. Sadly the complexities of politics are beyond Paris Hilton or Lindsay Lohan, but you might find it a bit slutty that Barbra Streisand has given money to four different Democrats (Dodd, Obama, Edwards, Clinton).
Even though it may seem like this election has already been going on forever, we’re actually still pretty early in the race. At this point in most presidential elections we had a lot less information and the candidates had a lot less money to work with. A couple of things seem absolutely certain. An awful lot of money is going to be spent in the next 16 months, and we’re likely to get pretty tired of these candidates by the time it’s all over.