Florida cash going to Democrats
Clinton and Obama so far have beaten the top Republican candidates in state fundraising.
By ADAM C. SMITH
Published April 17, 2007
When it comes to chasing campaign money, 2008 is looking like a very different election cycle in Florida.
Charlie Crist and the state Republican Party outspent Democrats four-to-one to win the governor's race in 2006, and President Bush raised more than three times as much money in Florida as John Kerry did in 2004.
But Democratic presidential candidates have so far this year swept up more Florida donations than Republicans, which observers attribute to uncertainty about the Republican field, and the level of energy among Democrats.
"It's never easy, but this is the easiest row to hoe we've had a in a long time," said Ira Leesfield a Miami lawyer and veteran fundraiser helping New York Sen. Hillary Clinton. "You've got people very motivated to have a change in administration regardless of their party."
Newly filed campaign finance reports show Sen. Clinton raised nearly $1.9-million from Florida in the first three months of the year. Democratic Illinois Sen. Barack Obama raised nearly $1.02-million, and Republican former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney raised nearly $1.01-million.
Republican Arizona Sen. John McCain raised more than $980,000 in Florida, while Republican former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani raised nearly $823,000. Democratic former Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina raised about $503,000 in Florida.
Florida has long been a top state for raising campaign cash for Democrats and Republicans alike. Florida was the fourth-most-generous state to Clinton, Obama and McCain, and the fifth-biggest contributor to Giuliani.
But Republican donors in Florida are still a little tentative.
"People are waiting. They want to see how it shakes out, and I'm in that category too," said Tampa lawyer Al Austin, one of Florida's top Republican fundraisers. "Money will not be a problem. The stronger Hillary and Obama look, the more money we will raise."
Brian Ballard, a Tallahassee lobbyist and top fundraiser for McCain, said many Republicans have "donor fatigue" after the expensive gubernatorial campaign, and many are waiting to follow the lead of Gov. Crist, who is officially neutral but widely seen as leaning toward McCain.
"There's probably $5-million of presidential money going wherever the governor goes," said Ballard, noting that while McCain's money-raising lagged nationally he easily beat his first quarter goals for Florida. "The rest of the country needs to catch up."
Romney, who has been aggressively campaigning in Florida for months, had boasted of landing key Republicans on his Florida finance team and led the GOP field in money, but not by much. Giuliani managed to raise more than $800,000 despite a late start and having barely any organization in Florida.
The lack of overwhelming enthusiasm for any of the Republican candidates has prompted speculation that the contest could be upended by the late entry of someone like former Sen. Fred Thompson of Tennessee. Mark Guzzetta, a South Florida developer and leading Romney fundraiser, said it's too late for that.
"Raising money takes lots of hard work and organization, and for Newt Gingrich or Fred Thompson to go out and try to find a fundraising network at this point is nearly impossible."
Nationally, Obama actually raised more money for the primary than Clinton, though she finished the quarter with more money in the bank thanks to a transfer of funds from her Senate account.
The Clintons have built a vast network to tap in Florida since Bill Clinton's first presidential campaign in 1992, and Chris Korge of Miami said her Florida haul demonstrated how popular she is in America's biggest battleground state.
"Hillary Clinton outraised all the other presidential candidates in Florida two-to-one, pretty much," said Korge, who expects she will focus on more low-dollar events in coming months.
Edwards doesn't have to juggle Senate duties and made frequent fundraising trips into Florida but fell far short of the leading candidates in money.
"I understand a lot of the talk is about the money chase, but he's got what he needs in terms of doing well where he needs to be," said Wayne Hogan, a Jacksonville lawyer helping Edwards. "There's tremendous enthusiasm for him everywhere he goes."
Obama's Florida finance chairman, Miami lawyer Kirk Wagar, said breaking $1-million in Florida was a big victory given that the campaign essentially started from scratch.
"Barack literally knew less than 10 people in Florida when he called me in January," Wagar said. "It's astounding from where we started and where we are right now."
Times computer assisted reporting specialist Constance Humburg contributed to this report. Adam C. Smith can be reached at (727)893-8241 or email@example.com.