Monday, Oct. 24, 2011 | 2:01 a.m.
President Barack Obama, in Las Vegas today to push his jobs plan, will also be holding his first local fundraising event of the 2012 campaign.
Politicians coming through Las Vegas make a point of feting donors: the city has a reputation as a place where presidential hopefuls can hit the fundraising jackpot, and Obama is a record-breaker when it comes to soliciting donations.
Except not so much in Nevada.
Nevada is one of two states that Obama won in 2008 without besting his rival, John McCain, in donated funds.
And this year, though his $88.5 million-dollar, million-donor strong campaign is leaving the Republicans in the dust, Obama is trailing the GOP’s front runner, Mitt Romney, by over 40 percent in Nevada.
That’s still an improvement for the Democrat.
Over the past generation of campaign cycles, Republicans have outmuscled others for money in Nevada, based on a Sun review of presidential candidate fundraising in the Silver State aggregated by the Federal Elections Commission and CQ Moneyline.
In 2004, incumbent president George W. Bush trounced Democratic rival John Kerry’s Nevada take: he brought in $2,270,962 to Kerry’s $436,954 – less than 20 cents for every dollar Bush collected. In his introductory term on the national stage, Bush bested Al Gore by almost as much: $578,397 to $173,325, despite Gore being the incumbent vice president Nevadans had already voted for, twice.
Even the charismatic Bill Clinton, who won Nevada both terms, couldn’t cash in on the Silver State compared to his rivals: he brought in $92,490 and $105,380 in 1992 and 1996, respectively, but was beaten by the elder George Bush’s $139,110 in his first run, and Bob Dole’s $458,030 in his second.
In fact, not since the days of Jimmy Carter — who brought in $81,350 from Nevadans to Ronald Reagan’s $85,265 in 1980 — has any Democratic candidate come within striking distance of Republican presidential nominee’s fundraising power.
“The interesting thing is that traditionally, Nevada — because it wasn’t seen as a competitive place for the Democrats in the presidential race — tended to be more of a focal point of Republican efforts than Democratic efforts,” said Anthony Corrado, a campaign finance expert at Colby College in Maine. “They didn’t pay as much attention in presidential fundraising as they do now.”
The new attention being paid to Nevada is part of a greater turn the Democratic party is taking toward the West, where a growing, minority-rich population is turning the entire region into a swinging clearinghouse of electoral votes.
Nevada, despite its small population, has become a bellwether in that equation: while Obama put Nevada, Colorado and New Mexico in his column in 2008, his margin of victory in the Silver State was smack-dab in the middle of the Western pack. This time around, the dismal economic climate in Nevada demands that Obama make his best pitch for recovery to the locals here. If Obama can convince Nevadans he can turn around this economy, he’s won his toughest regional audience — and one for which Romney is making a strong play.
But while the adage that money follows politics would seem to be favoring Republicans, members of that party who are on the ground aren’t rejoicing at Romney’s financial headway just yet.
“I don’t think Republicans contribute to these candidates on an expectation that they’ll come back to campaign heavily,” said Robert Uithoven, a Nevada-based Republican strategist. “If you’re supporting somebody for president enough to write them a check, it has more to do with the shared philosophy and trying to bet on the right horse than setting an expectation of how many times they’ll be back in the state.”
Groundwork in the state, however, is what wins the all-important independent voter -- and there, Uithoven said, Democrats still have a competitive advantage, regardless of what the Romney-versus-Obama numbers are.
“For the last few election cycles, Democrats have had more confidence in funding their state party than Republicans have had in funding theirs,” Uithoven said. “If as a Republican you don’t have faith in your state party to do the job it needs to do in turning out votes, you’re going to be giving more to your candidate.... Republican have not had that strong of a party structure that people are willing to fund.”
A quick look at the state parties' most recent financial disclosure forms suggests he might be right.
Nevada laws don’t require the state parties to file thrice-yearly reports in off-years, but according to the most recent report, state Democrats are doing much better than state Republicans.
At the end of 2010, the most recent figures available, the Nevada Democratic State Party reported taking in almost $2.5 million over the course of the year, while the Nevada Republican State Central Committee brought in just over $536,000.
That money is of course spread out over all manner of races — presidential, Senate, House and local in-state positions. But added to Obama’s and McCain’s total funds raised, it more than closes the remaining gap between the $1.68 million Obama received and the $1.89 million McCain received from Nevadans on their own in 2008.
There’s also an important distinction to make between the relative importance of Las Vegas’s fundraising power to Republicans and Democrats. While donations can be an important indicator of support, the money Republicans make from Nevadans are more important to the running of their campaigns than is the money the Democrats pull in.
Comparing the top-line figures, there doesn’t seem to be much difference: Nevada ranked 29th in fundraising importance for Obama in 2008, and 25th for McCain.
But when considered in terms of dollars-per-capita, the fundraising difference becomes dramatic: while Nevada was only the 29th-most important state to Obama in 2008, it ranked sixth for both Romney and McCain.
It's fallen off slightly for Romney now that he's a favored candidate to win the Republican nomination, but a marked difference still remains. At the end of the third quarter of fundraising, Obama had raised a total of $155,500 in Nevada, while Romney had raised a total of $262,000. Taken on a per capita basis, that ranks Nevada as Romney's 17th most important state for fundraising but only the 35th for Obama.
Neither the Obama campaign nor the Nevada Democrats seem concerned that money will be any obstacle to campaigning in the state.
And Corrado warned against taking too many ground cues from the financial figures.
“Much of the money is coming from the top end. It’s coming from a relatively small portion of the population in Nevada,” Corrado said. “When you think about the fact that in 2008, Obama had much broader support among lower-income, union, and middle class voters, the fact that there’s a been a disconnect between the money and the voting outcome doesn’t surprise me...particularly because of the economic problems Nevada was already starting to encounter.”