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Politics

The money primary: Where do the candidates stand?

Last week marked the final time that presidential candidates will publicly disclose their fundraising and campaign spending before the first nominating contests of the 2012 election.

Fundraising got off to a slower start in 2011 than it did in 2007, when candidates from both parties began raising money in the first quarter of the year. This time, the so-called money primary – that crucial stretch of months from when a candidate jumps into the race until the first nominating ballots are cast – didn’t kick off until the spring.

As is not unusual for an incumbent president, Obama far outraised the entire Republican field combined, bringing in more than $42 million in the summer months, for a total of $90 million raised this year.

On the Republican side, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney has raised the most: $32.6 million.  Texas Gov. Rick Perry ranks second, with $17.2 million raised. That total comes from just six weeks of fundraising, as Perry didn’t join the race until mid-August.

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And Perry holds a slight cash advantage over Romney, with more than $15 million cash on hand compared to Romney’s $14.7 million.

Straddling the first and second tiers, as far as fundraising is concerned, is Texas Rep. Ron Paul, who has pulled in $12.8 million so far.

The next time the candidates must announce how much they’ve raised, on Jan. 31, GOP nominating contests in Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada, South Carolina and Florida will already have taken place.

Here’s what the current numbers tell us about the state of the money race so far:

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President Obama Obama’s $90 million may look like a slow start for a candidate who was once expected to break the $1-billion mark in 2012.  But records aside, Obama’s fundraising numbers are about the best thing he has going for him right now, as his approval rating hovers around 38%.

And that total doesn’t include the more than $65 million Obama helped raise for the DNC – dollars that will also be used for his reelection effort.

Obama’s haul looks especially impressive at this early stage, compared with lackluster fundraising by the nine major GOP candidates. But it’s important to note that those candidates are splitting the Republican donor base, and outside groups are collecting unknown sums that could total in the hundreds of millions.

Obama, however, has no primary challenger. So the money he’s raking in can go toward infrastructure that will put his organization far ahead of the eventual Republican nominee.  In the third quarter, Obama’s campaign spent more than $4 million on payroll alone. That’s more than some candidates have raised all year.

Mitt Romney By this point in the 2008 campaign, Romney had raised nearly $45 million, had loaned his campaign more than $17 million, and had spent almost all of it. 

This year, Romney is running a more modest campaign, both in dollars raised and spent, though the $18 million he’s spent since entering the race is still more than the rest of the GOP presidential field combined. And he hasn’t dipped into his own pockets.

Much has been made of Romney’s appeal to Wall Street donors and the prospect of an epic Obama-Romney struggle for Wall Street cash. But at this point in the race, Romney’s immediate concern should be Rick Perry, who currently has enough cash on hand to make the GOP nomination contest competitive and expensive for Romney, the presumed frontrunner.

Rick Perry By all measures, Rick Perry is holding his own on the fundraising front. In about six weeks, Perry raised more than Romney had raised in double the time – and he nearly matched Romney’s second-quarter haul.

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Perry may be lagging in polls, but his $15-million war chest means he’ll be able to ride the campaign waves for some time.

To compete against Romney, Perry will need to expand his donor base beyond his home state. The vast majority of Perry’s large-dollar donations -- $9.7 million – came from Texas.

Ron Paul The Texas congressman is known for his ability to mobilize a network of loyal supporters, and for the success of his grassroots “moneybomb” fundraising technique.  Paul raised nearly $8.3 million in the third quarter, compared to $4.5 million in the spring.

Paul placed second behind Romney in third-quarter spending and goes into the fall with nearly $3.7 million cash on hand.

Of all the GOP candidates, Paul’s contributions came most evenly from across the country.  If he can keep up the fundraising pace, he’ll be able to stay in the campaign as long as he wants. In 2008, Paul was the last of the GOP candidates to pull out of the primary contest, though he had been mathematically eliminated long before.

Michele Bachmann Bachmann’s third quarter totals – $4.1 million raised and $6.2 million spent -- confirmed what many had suspected about the Minnesota congresswoman’s campaign: She spent big over the summer to win a straw poll in Ames, Iowa, but couldn’t convert the victory into campaign cash.

Bachmann spent more than $2.8 million in the month leading up to the Ames straw poll. But the investment didn’t pan out – her third-quarter haul lagged behind her second-quarter effort, which raised $4.2 million.

Bachmann goes into the fall with $1.5 million cash on hand and $550,000 in debt.

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Herman Cain
The retired pizza chain executive has surged in the polls since books closed Sept. 30 on the third financial quarter of the year. Cain reported raising $2.8 million that quarter, but said over the weekend that his fundraising had surged along with his standing in the polls: Cain raised $2 million in the first two weeks of October, he said.

Cain closed the quarter with $1.3 million cash on hand, and $675,000 in debt to himself.

A former chief executive of Godfather’s Pizza, Cain has some personal wealth, but nothing like the hundreds of millions that Romney could tap into if he needed to sustain an expensive, drawn-out campaign. If Cain wants to capitalize on his newfound popularity, he’ll have to find a way to turn it into campaign cash.

Melanie Mason in the Washington Bureau contributed to this report.


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