Obama, GOP rivals close in money race

This graphic shows contributions in local zip codes to presidential candidates from March 3 to Sept. 30, 2011. Click here to see how much each candidate raised and each donor in a table below the map. At left is President Obama and at right is Republican candidate Herman Cain.
This graphic shows contributions in local zip codes to presidential candidates from March 3 to Sept. 30, 2011. Click here to see how much each candidate raised and each donor in a table below the map. At left is President Obama and at right is Republican candidate Herman Cain.
Posted: October 22, 2011

Click here to search an interactive database of all the presidential campaign contributions from March 3 to Sept. 30, 2011.

A wave of support from Philadelphia's historically moderate suburbs helped push Barack Obama into the White House in 2008. But if the latest fund-raising totals are any indication, his grip on those crucial swing counties may be slipping.

The president and his GOP rivals are running neck-and-neck in raising money from Montgomery, Bucks, Chester, and Delaware Counties, with only $36,000 separating Obama and the combined efforts of his prospective opponents, according to an Inquirer analysis of reports filed with the Federal Election Commission.

At the same point in the 2008 race, Democratic presidential candidates were outraising their Republican counterparts in those counties, 2-1.

And, while Obama has retained support in Philadelphia, raising nearly three times as much as Republicans, in South Jersey the picture is bleaker for him.

There, GOP candidates - led by former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney - have collectively brought in more than $96,000, topping the president's $88,000 haul.

The numbers mirror recent polls showing erosion in the president's support across Southeastern Pennsylvania, a key corner of a key state for his reelection chances.

"There isn't any doubt that Pennsylvania is back in the middle of it, and the Philadelphia suburbs are the crucial piece here," said G. Terry Madonna, a pollster and political analyst at Franklin and Marshall College. "If you don't win them, you're in real trouble."

The Inquirer's analysis, based on campaign reports spanning from January to the end of September, offers a glimpse at how candidates are faring in the money race before the start of primary season next year, when that money will pay for TV, radio, and other campaign advertising.

The overwhelming message: This is no 2008. And perhaps as a consequence of the recession, all the numbers are down.

Nationally, the combined GOP field has edged Obama, $90 million to $86 million. But the president has raised nearly three times as much campaign money as Romney, his closest rival. By Sept. 30 the former governor had collected $32.2 million, according to the FEC.

At this point four years ago, presidential candidates on both sides had raised more than $5.5 million from the Philadelphia area in the midst of a red-hot Democratic primary contest between Obama and Hillary Rodham Clinton, and a wide-open GOP field.

This time, with Obama running unopposed in his party and a divided group of Republicans, campaign contributions to date barely exceed $2 million across the eight-county Philadelphia region, which includes Camden, Gloucester, and Burlington Counties in New Jersey.

Of that total, $1.2 million - 58 percent - went to the president, who showed strong support, with more than 2,300 individual donors in reliably Democratic Philadelphia.

He pulled in $423,000 in the city, $659,000 in the Pennsylvania suburbs, and $88,000 in South Jersey.

Interactive Database Search an interactive database of all the presidential campaign contributions from March 3 to Sept. 30, 2011.

His top donors include some of the usual big Democratic names, such as Comcast executive David L. Cohen, who this summer hosted an Obama fund-raiser, complete with presidential visit, at his West Mount Airy home.

That's only the half of it, said Ben Finkenbinder, an Obama campaign spokesman. Candidates are required to report only donations larger than $200. Nationwide, 98 percent of Obama's contributions are under $250, Finkenbinder said.

Sylvia Hayre Randolph, a 70-year-old retired Philadelphia school librarian, counts herself in those ranks. For several months, she has religiously contributed $10 a month to the president's campaign despite never having made regular political contributions before.

"I have a lot of faith in him. I believe in him," she said. "He's a man of his word, and he's doing his job. He's still out there trying to make a difference."

In the Republican field, Romney is leading the pack with a haul from the region of $430,000 from 320 donors.

"The main issues in Pennsylvania are jobs and the economy," said Ryan Williams, a spokesman for the Romney campaign. "Voters in Philadelphia suburbs have been very receptive to the governor's pro-growth, pro-jobs message."

The bulk of Romney's support came from home and office addresses in Center City, along with homes in Main Line communities and in Blue Bell, where members of the large and generous Shacklett family gave a combined $22,000, 5 percent of Romney's regionwide total.

The family gave thousands to Gov. Corbett's 2010 campaign and donated to John McCain's presidential race in 2008. The Shackletts run National Label Co. in Lafayette Hill and have long been fixtures in local GOP circles.

The only native son in the race, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, fared respectably, with $140,000 from 130 donors in the region even though national polls place him toward the back of the Republican pack.

Texas Gov. Rick Perry, once a front-runner in GOP polls, fared less well, raising $84,000 - $3,000 less than fellow Texan and perennial Libertarian favorite Ron Paul.

Perry was helped by a September fund-raising event at Philadelphia's Four Seasons Hotel, hosted by businessman and insurance broker Manuel Stamatakis, another veteran GOP donor. Stamatakis personally gave $5,000 to Perry's campaign but would not say how much his event took in.

And though Herman Cain once oversaw 400 Burger Kings in the region and is, like many a Philadelphia voter, African American, he has yet to record a single campaign donation from the city. He picked up $17,000 from the suburban counties.

Donations from the suburban counties accounted for about three-quarters of the GOP's regional fund-raising pot, compared with just more than half of Obama's.

J. Richard Booth, a longtime GOP activist and Lower Gwynedd township supervisor, surmised that Romney's center-right positions were closer to suburban voters' thinking than those of his more conservative rivals. Nearly 68 percent of Romney's cash - including $250 from Booth - came from Montgomery, Bucks, Chester, or Delaware Counties.

He is "more moderate than the tea party. He knows how to run a business," Booth, a retired dentist, said. "He looks presidential to me."

And after a bruising 2010 midterm election for the Democrats, that may be all it takes for a Republican to take back Philadelphia's suburbs, and with them Pennsylvania.

But Madonna, the political analyst, cautioned against drawing conclusions too soon. While polling shows Obama on shaky ground and the region's money numbers show the GOP field matching him dollar for dollar, the local picture could change after Republicans hold their Pennsylvania primary April 24 - not to mention settle on a nominee.

"Pennsylvanians have always elected a certain type of candidate," Madonna said. "They typically avoid the more conservative fringes."

Contact staff writer Jeremy Roebuck at 267-564-5218, jroebuck@phillynews.com, or @inqmontco on Twitter. Read his blog, "MontCo Memo," at www.philly.com/montcomemo.

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