Why Mitt Romney raised more money than President Obama in May

Mitt Romney raised $16 million more in campaign cash in May than Obama did. That's a reversal of fortune from April, when Obama prevailed by $11 million. Here are three reasons for the big shift.

Evan Vucci/AP
Republican presidential candidate, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney shakes hands during a campaign stop at Production Products, Thursday, June 7, in St. Louis, Mo.

Mitt Romney and the Republican Party easily raised more cash in May than did President Obama and the Democrats, $76 million to $60 million, according to figures released Thursday by the presidential candidates’ campaigns.

It’s possible that this gap will appear narrower after the campaigns file official reports with the Federal Election Commission later this month. It’s unclear, for example, what percentage of Mr. Romney’s haul went to party committees that by law must spend some of their money on congressional elections.

But the $16 million gap remains large enough to call into question Mr. Obama’s reputation as the master fundraiser of the presidential race. And it cheered Republicans who have seen Romney quickly gather the party around him and begin to mount an aggressive general election campaign.

Democrats may commence panicking with this news,” crowed conservative Jennifer Rubin Thursday on her Right Turn blog at the Washington Post.

How did Romney do it? After all, in April the presumptive nominee’s campaign raised only about $11 million, to $25 million for Obama. (These figures don’t include party committees.)

For one thing, Romney’s actually pretty good at raking in campaign cash. With deep ties to the finance industry and a prosperous Mormon constituency, he was easily the richest of the GOP contenders throughout the long primary campaign.

Second, that primary campaign is over. The flow of Republican contributions had been divided among numerous candidates. That flow has now coalesced into a single stream pouring into Romney’s coffers. Without the need to contest the remaining primary states, Romney had lots of time to hold May fundraisers.

Third, Romney is benefitting from a rally-around effect. Now that he’s the obvious nominee, he has gained in the polls, reflecting his new, higher stature. Similarly, he’s received a burst of money from contributors who had yet to max out on legal limits. That’s a jolt of cash he may find hard to duplicate in coming months.

Looking ahead, the campaign will feature not just a battle of contrasting candidates, but also a battle of contrasting fundraising styles. Romney gets a much higher percentage of his money in the form of relatively large donations. Through April, only 10 percent of his contributions had come from small donors who gave $200 or less.

“This small-donor performance is markedly different from John Kerry’s and George W. Bush’s in 2004,” notes an analysis from the Campaign Finance Institute.

By contrast, 43 percent of Obama’s money through April came in increments of less than $200. This may mean he has a fundraising base to which he can continue to appeal, because many donors haven’t hit their $2,500 limit.

And as a coda here we’ll note that there is some question about how much this fundraising matters. Elections, particularly presidential elections, are not decided by the hurly-burly of fundraising and campaigns at all, many political scientists say.

As Jennifer Victor, a George Mason University political scientist, writes on the new political party blog Mischiefs of Faction, macroeconomic trends remain the best indicators of who wins presidential contests.

“Typically, the rate of change in third quarter GDP or unemployment are likely to be much better predictors of the election outcome than any amount spent by any group on campaigning,” writes Ms. Victor.

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