By Michael O’Brien and Hannah Brenton - 10/01/10 10:00 AM EDT
Senate GOP candidates backed by the Tea Party movement have received much less financial support than more established candidates from their party’s leading contenders for the White House.
The GOP figures jockeying for a 2012 bid have largely avoided contributing from their political action committees (PACs) to Christine O’Donnell in Delaware, Rand Paul in Kentucky, Joe Miller in Alaska, Mike Lee in Utah, Ken Buck in Colorado and Sharron Angle in Nevada.
But the six have received only a combined $38,000 from 10 leading Republicans thought to be eyeing a White House run. In comparison, Rob Portman, a former congressman and Bush administration official who is the GOP Senate candidate in Ohio, has received $29,400 alone.
Most of the donations to the Tea Party six has come from former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, the front-runner for the GOP nomination, according to a Gallup poll released Thursday.
Romney has donated the maximum $5,000 to O’Donnell, Lee, Buck and Angle, while Palin’s PAC distributed $9,500 to the six candidates, according to an analysis of campaign donations conducted by The Hill.
By contrast, sitting Republican senators and candidates recruited by national Republicans to run for the Senate have netted almost a quarter-million in donations.
That crop of establishment candidates includes Kelly Ayotte in New Hampshire, Rep. Roy Blunt in Missouri, Rep. John Boozman in Arkansas, former Sen. Dan Coats in Indiana, Carly Fiorina in California, Gov. John Hoeven in North Dakota, Ron Johnson in Wisconsin, Rep. Mark Kirk in Illinois, Rep. Jerry Moran in Kansas, Portman in Ohio, John Raese in West Virginia, Dino Rossi in Washington state and former Rep. Pat Toomey in Pennsylvania.
The Hill looked at contributions from Romney, Palin, Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, Sen. John Thune (S.D.), former Speaker Newt Gingrich (Ga.), former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, 2008 presidential candidate Rep. Ron Paul (Texas), Rep. Mike Pence (Ind.) and former Sen. Rick Santorum (Pa.).
Both Romney and Thune have made large footprints in the Senate landscape with their PACs. Thune, a member of the Senate GOP leadership who is running unopposed for reelection, has doled out more than $175,000 this cycle. Romney, who’s also spent heavily in House and gubernatorial races, has spent about $125,000 on Senate candidates.
But when it comes to some of the insurgent, Tea Party-backed candidates who’ve beaten incumbent Republicans or establishment-backed candidates in primaries, Republican candidates for president aren’t always backing up their professed support with campaign cash.
Thune’s Heartland Values PAC, for instance, said that it hadn’t donated to O’Donnell because she hadn’t asked for support.
“I don’t know if we’ve received a request,” said Justin Brasell, a PAC spokesman. “Sen. Thune supports our Republican Senate nominees.”
The approach by many of the potential candidates differs sharply from that of Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.), a dark-horse White House contender.
DeMint, through his Senate Conservatives Fund, has backed many of the Tea Party candidates this cycle, sometimes during the primary. Angle, Buck and Paul have all received $5,000 from DeMint’s PAC, and Lee received $10,000.
White House contenders typically set up PACs and dole out cash to build support to run for higher office. The hope is that those helped out will offer endorsements and fundraising down the road.
As a result, the donations are both an indication of the presidential contenders’ view of the crop of Senate nominees and a bid to build a political base.
By that measure, would-be GOP presidential candidates are betting in a major way on Blunt and Portman, who have received close to $30,000 apiece from the presidential hopefuls. Ayotte, Coats, Fiorina, Hoeven and Toomey each has received between $20,000 to $25,000.
Marco Rubio, the Republican Senate nominee in Florida who has excited conservatives across the country, has been quickly embraced by the establishment. He’s received $17,400 from Thune, Romney, Pawlenty and Huckabee. DeMint has also given a maximum donation.
Some of the other Tea Party candidates could also pick up steam in the four and a half weeks between now and Election Day.
Pawlenty’s Freedom First PAC, for instance, has distributed just over $46,000 so far to GOP Senate candidates, but plans unspecified donations to O’Donnell and Miller.
“Obviously there’s too many competitive races in a great cycle like this to contribute to every single candidate who we like, but we’re using our resources wisely and supporting as many as possible,” said Alex Conant, a spokesman for Pawlenty.
Hogan Gidley, the executive director of Huckabee’s HuckPAC, was quick to point out that support for candidates extends well beyond pure donations.
“In addition to financial assistance, much of Gov. Huckabee’s work on behalf of candidates flies underneath the D.C. press radar,” he said. “While the robo-calls and radio ads we cut for our candidates aren’t as flashy to many in the elite media, the campaigns we’ve helped sure appreciate them and understand their value.”
Other possible candidates, like Pence and Barbour, have focused their resources in other contests in which they have a stake. Pence has given to Coats and Blunt, but otherwise focused on House races.
Barbour’s been more active in Senate races, donating $53,500. But his political impact’s been felt much more heavily through his work as chairman of the Republican Governors Association (RGA), where he’s raised millions in support of GOP gubernatorial candidates.
Pawlenty, like Romney and Barbour, has also been active. “So far we’re proud to have given over $320,000 to more than 160 conservative candidates across the country, and many more candidates are benefiting from Gov. Pawlenty’s work as vice chair of the RGA and his fundraising efforts for the NRSC, NRCC and RNC,” Conant said.