10.30.11

Obama's Swing-State Cash Problem

Despite the president's overall fundraising advantage, Mitt Romney is hauling in more in key swing states. Laura Colarusso on how the numbers could add up to a GOP win in 2012.

If raising cash is the first presidential primary, the latest round of campaign filings contains early warning signs for Barack Obama in key states that were crucial to his election in 2008.

Though he’s raised almost three times as much as Mitt Romney—the former governor of Massachusetts has brought in $32 million—the president is trailing his GOP rival in a handful of battleground states. In both Florida and Nevada, Romney nearly doubled the president’s haul, despite a crowded field of Republican candidates who are also vacuuming up donations. And Romney, of course, doesn’t enjoy the power of incumbency.

“It's a very positive sign for Romney that he's able to raise that kind of money in swing states, where donors tend to be much more concerned with electability than in reliably blue or red states,” says John Green, a political-science professor and director of the Bliss Institute for Applied Politics at the University of Akron. “It suggests that they consider his candidacy viable.”

Since January, Romney has raked in $2.5 million from Florida donors, topping the amount that he’s received from Massachusetts by $400,000. Obama has raised just under $1.9 million from the Sunshine State, well below the $2.7 million he pulled in during the first three quarters of 2007.

At this point in the race, no other Republican comes close to Romney’s haul from Florida (or most of the other swing states, for that matter). Herman Cain, who has recently surged to frontrunner status in the polls, has raised only $189,000 in the state, according to campaign documents. Floridians have contributed about $200,000 to Michele Bachmann. Since entering the race in August, Texas Gov. Rick Perry has received about $740,000.

“Romney has longstanding ties to the business community in Florida and has tapped into his network of bundlers, many of whom he relied on in his bid for the presidency four years ago,” says Daniel Smith, director of the political-campaigning program and professor of political science at the University of Florida. “Florida is a wellspring of deep pockets for Republicans.”

The figures, which were compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics and don’t include donations that were less than $200, tell a similar story in Nevada. The Romney campaign has brought in more than $257,000, while Obama’s operation has raised about $126,000. Romney also boasts bigger totals in both Colorado and Michigan, where he’s so far beaten the president by $30,000 and $400,000, respectively. (Romney’s dad was a former Michigan governor.)

“It's a very positive sign for Romney that he's able to raise that kind of money in swing states, where donors tend to be much more concerned with electability.”

Romney has benefited from the hotly contested primary, which has created a sense of urgency among his supporters. In fact, as the Republicans head into the Iowa caucuses on Jan. 3, the only swing state where Romney isn’t outpacing all his GOP rivals is New Mexico, where Perry has so far raised $41,000—about $8,000 more than Romney.

“The general election is pretty far away, so Obama probably doesn’t have to worry too much yet,” Smith says. “But if these patterns were to continue into next year, this could be very good news for Romney and the Republicans. It shows they can raise money at a pace comparable to the president.”

Obama still holds a substantial advantage in Pennsylvania, where he’s raised $1.4 million. (Romney has received $436,000 from Pennsylvania donors, but he’s still ahead of former senator Rick Santorum, who has received only $340,000 from his home state.) In Virginia, where a Democrat running for the White House hadn’t won since 1964 until Obama carried the state, the president outraised Romney, $1.1 million to $900,000. Campaign contributions from Wisconsin are breaking 3 to 1 for Obama, who has gotten more than $300,000 from the Badger State.

North Carolina donors have contributed close to $575,000 to the president’s reelection campaign—up about $100,000 from the same period in 2007. That extra cash has helped Obama build a $367,000 advantage over Romney in a conservative state (albeit one that Obama won in 2008). The fundraising totals are closer in Ohio, where Obama has cleared about $40,000 more than Romney.

“There are a lot of people in swing states who are giving to candidates in the early stages of this election cycle,” Smith says. “Donors in highly competitive areas are aware that elections can turn on a handful of votes.”