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Assessing the Money Primary

With several months to go before any votes are cast, all we can do until then is count money, and with the end of the second fiscal quarter last night, that is exactly what the presidential candidates and their staffs are doing today. We’ll learn a lot more about the exact tally on July 15, when the campaigns will be required to say not only how much they raised in the last three months but also how much they spent and borrowed. Until then, all we have to go on is leaks and guesses.

But whatever the exact totals may be, there is little question the leader in the GOP money primary is the same one who is currently ahead in the polls: Mitt Romney. The former Massachusetts governor is believed to have brought in between $15 and $20 million. It’s an impressive achievement when you consider it’s around the same number he had four years ago when the economy was doing a lot better.

Tim Pawlenty is thought to have brought in only a quarter of Romney’s haul. That $5 million is nothing to sneeze at, but the problem for Pawlenty is, unlike Romney or Jon Huntsman, he has no vast personal fortune to fall back upon in a pinch. As for Huntsman, although he’s only been actively running for a few weeks, he is believed to have taken in more than $4 million. But don’t get too excited. Half of it is said to be seed money he gifted to himself.

The biggest question mark in the money primary is the candidate who has been on the upswing in recent weeks: Michele Bachmann. There appear to be no firm rumors or leaks about her totals. The one thing we do know about her financial situation is her grass roots support gives her a vast audience of small donors who can easily make up for the fact she can’t count on the same backing from the financial industry and other sectors of big business that have stepped up for Romney.

But however well or badly any of the individual candidates are doing, there are two factors to be aware of.

The first is there is clearly less money being donated to GOP candidates in this presidential election cycle than in the last go round. You can place some of the blame for this on a worse economy than they one we were enjoying in 2007. But there is also the fact that, at least up until now, none of the Republicans have generated the excitement that might drive a big fundraising number.

The second is while the Republicans squabble and beat the bushes for a smaller pool of GOP donations than in the last election, Barack Obama is still way ahead of them in terms of money raised. Republicans can point to all the bad economic statistics and Obama’s abysmal poll numbers and be encouraged about their chances for 2012. But Obama is still the president and has not been shy about taking advantage of his incumbency to rake in cash. His goal for the last quarter was a staggering $60 million, and there’ every chance he met that objective. Which just shows no matter who comes out ahead in the Republican dust-up, they will have their hands full attempting to compete against a Democratic president who may wind up raising more than $1 billion in 2012.


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