Articles

Who's Winning The GOP 'Money Primary'

July 22, 2015

In the ever-important Money Primary, the GOP presidential field has divided into Haves and Have-Nots.

The Haves are former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, who has raised $114 million; Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, at $52 million; Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, at $45 million; and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, at $26 million. These figures include the funds raised directly by the campaigns as well as the candidates’ associated super PACs through June 30.

Excluding super PACs changes the ranking. In that case, Mr. Cruz leads with $14 million to Mr. Rubio’s $12 million and Mr. Bush’s $11 million.

Remember when each announced he would run for president, since FEC rules don’t allow campaign fundraising until the candidate is officially in the race. Mr. Cruz declared on March 23, Mr. Rubio on April 13, and Mr. Bush on June 15. So Mr. Bush raised almost as much for his campaign in two weeks as Messrs. Cruz and Rubio did in three or more months. Mr. Walker declared on July 13, after the quarterly reporting deadline had passed, so his totals do not include any campaign fundraising. But his extensive donor list from his recall election will likely help him scramble the ranking.

It appears that these four candidates will have the $20-$25 million in cash required to compete in February’s four nominating contests (with 5% of the national delegates) and the $35-$40 million more needed for the primaries on March 1 and 8 (when about a quarter of the delegates will be up for grabs).

Of course, what’s raised is only part of the picture. A candidate’s cash on hand and his burn rate—how quickly money is spent—are also critical. In the second quarter, Mr. Rubio had an impressively low burn rate of 19%: He’s smartly saving resources for the primaries. Mr. Bush spent roughly $3.1 million of the $11.4 million his campaign raised, for a burn rate of 27%—which may have included start-up costs since he declared two weeks before the reporting period ended. Mr. Cruz spent 54% of what his campaign raised last quarter, which is high. Walker’s burn rate won’t be available until third-quarter reports are released in October.

The Have-Nots are 11 other Republicans whose fundraising totals range from $18 million, raised by former Texas Gov. Rick Perry, down to $255,795, by former New York Gov. George Pataki. The Have-Nots also generally show higher burn rates, ranging from 40% for Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul to 64% for neurosurgeon Ben Carson.

Some Have-Nots, notably New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and Ohio Gov. John Kasich, only recently announced and could show good numbers this quarter. But these 11 must step up their fundraising—or pin their hopes on a breakout debate performance or a lightning strike. The risk is that they won’t have sufficient capital to compete in February, let alone in March.

The Haves face challenges, too. Of Mr. Bush’s campaign donations, 81% were for the maximum contribution of $2,700, according to an analysis by the New York Times. That means these donors can’t write further checks to his campaign (though they can still give to his super PAC). By comparison, only 17% of Mr. Cruz’s donations and 31% of Mr. Rubio’s were for the maximum amount. 

Roughly 47% of Mr. Cruz’s donations and 28% of Mr. Rubio’s were for $200 or less, according to FEC reports, compared with 3% of Mr. Bush’s. Again, this is largely the result of how long each man has been collecting cash. Still, Mr. Bush must dramatically broaden his base of small donors this quarter, or it will be difficult for him to reload.

One candidate is neither a Have nor a Have-Not. Donald Trump raised less than $100,000 in the few days during the filing period that he was an official candidate, but he lent his campaign $1.8 million and spent 74% of it. As a self-funder, he is limited only by liquidity and reason. 

Money is not the most important measure of a candidate, but it is crucial to winning. When Hillary Clinton talks of raising $2 billion for the presidential election, someone in the GOP field must demonstrate the ability to keep up. Otherwise, the Republican nominee could be nearly defenseless in the general election. 

The Money Primary will significantly affect the real primaries. And less than three weeks from the first debate on Aug. 6, four Republicans are far out in front in raising campaign cash. Come mid-October, we’ll see whose fundraising keeps pace—and, more important, who is putting those dollars to effective use.

A version of this article appeared July 23, 2015, in the U.S. edition of The Wall Street Journal, with the headline Who's Winning The GOP 'Money Primary' and online at WSJ.com.

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