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Eye On Candidates
February 22, 2016

January’s Campaign Cash Reports: A Test of Competitiveness

The results of the Nevada Democratic caucuses and the South Carolina Republican primary dominated coverage of the 2016 nomination contest over the weekend, for obvious reasons. Businessman Donald Trump won in South Carolina, with Florida Sen. Marco Rubio a distant second followed by Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, and a poor showing persuaded former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush to abandon his bid.

On the Democratic side, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton beat Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders by a closer margin than was predicted a month ago, but it was still enough to leave little doubt that she remains in the frontrunner’s spot for the Democratic nomination.

Lost in the caucus and primary results was another vital piece of information – how the candidates’ fundraising efforts fared in the first month of 2016. As this article in The New York Times indicates, some candidates entered the voting phase of the nomination fight in much better position than others:

Ted Cruz and Donald Trump Head Toward Super Tuesday With G.O.P.’s Deepest Pockets

Mr. Cruz is the best financed candidate in the Republican race, beginning February with $13.6 million in cash on hand. Mr. Trump, a billionaire, has raised millions of dollars from small donors and lent himself millions more, including nearly $5 million in January. He paid out more than $11.5 million that month, the most sustained spending of his presidential bid so far.

Those remaining in the race on Sunday, Gov. John Kasich of Ohio and Senator Marco Rubio of Florida, had less than $7 million in cash between them….

Mr. Kasich had just $1.4 million on hand at the end of January — virtually dry against the scale of modern presidential campaigns — while Mr. Rubio had $5 million, though both campaigns were expected to capitalize on strong showings in the first two contests.

Both Kasich and Rubio likely received boosts to their fundraising in February, following a second-place finish in New Hampshire for the former and a third-place and second-place finish for Rubio in Iowa and South Carolina, respectively. Kasich might have a problem building on that New Hampshire finish, however:

Mr. Kasich faces perhaps the biggest challenge. He is bypassing this week’s Republican caucuses in Nevada, and he is counting on strong performances in Michigan, whose primary is March 8, and his home state of Ohio, which votes on March 15. He is not likely to have another attention-grabbing finish before those contests.

On the Democratic side, Sanders outraised Clinton in January but is spending cash at a rapid clip – not surprising for an underdog candidate battling a frontrunner, but apparently of concern to some, as The Washington Post reports:

Sen. Bernie Sanders drastically ramped up his campaign's spending in January as the Democratic primary contest engaged, racing through nearly $35 million as he worked to try to match the infrastructure that former secretary of state Hillary Clinton built over the course of last year.

As a result, even though he outraised her for the first time, Clinton expanded her cash lead by the end of the month. After spending $21.2 million in January, Clinton ended the month with nearly $33 million in the bank. Sanders had almost $14.7 million.

There’s a great deal of information contained in the reports, as a few Politico stories demonstrate. First, it appears that retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson saw his fundraising pace pick up after it tailed off in December:

Contributions to Ben Carson rebounded in January after his foreign policy stumbles took a toll toward the end of 2015.

The neurosurgeon's campaign raised $3.8 million in January, up from $2.5 million a month earlier, according to its FEC filing today. His strength with small donors continued, with almost half the contributions being less than $200. At the end of the month, Carson's campaign had about $4 million in the bank.

Still, the flailing campaign spent far more than it raised: $6.2 million. Its main vendors were Direct Advantage for media, Eleventy Marketing Group for database management, and Infocision for fundraising phone calls. The campaign continued to rely on costly fundraising techniques, spending half a million dollars on phone banks and almost as much on printing and postage.

Cruz spent big before Iowa, which helps to explain his first-place finish there at the beginning of the month:

Ted Cruz raised $7.6 million in January as his campaign surged into Iowa, with small donors providing an impressive 42 percent of his total, according to a report filed Saturday with the Federal Election Commission.

The report showed that the Cruz campaign’s spending, which it had kept low in 2015, spiked to $12.7 million in January as he mounted an aggressive campaign ahead of the Feb. 1 Iowa caucuses, which the Texas senator won.

The campaign finished January with a strong $13.7 million in the bank, and it likely experienced a fundraising boom after his Iowa win.

It’ll be another month before candidates have to release their fundraising, spending, and cash-on-hand totals for the month of February, although it’s likely those doing best will release the information early in March to bolster the narratives of their campaigns’ competitiveness. But for now, it seems that neither Clinton nor Sanders are likely to run out of money anytime soon; both Cruz and Trump appear to be in good financial shape as well; and Rubio is likely doing well enough after his Iowa and South Carolina finishes as well. Carson and Kasich, on the other hand, may be on running on empty, although that information likely won’t be public for a while.