Early fundraising totals could shape 2016 GOP field

Early fundraising totals could shape 2016 GOP field
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Republican candidates are looking to use the release of their quarterly fundraising numbers to show they’ve got what it takes to outlast the crowded field.
 
The smart-money favorites are hoping to flex their muscles and fire a warning shot down the totem pole, while long-shot candidates seek to prove their mettle.
 
“This is the first opportunity to publicly separate the A-team 2016 contenders from the wannabes,” Ford O’Connell, a GOP strategist who worked on Sen. John McCain’s (R-Ariz.) 2008 presidential campaign, told The Hill.
 
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“And for those mired in the middle of the 2016 GOP pack, this is a chance to outshine expectations and grab some much-needed momentum leading up to the August debate.”
 
The second fundraising quarter of 2015 — the first of the race for the presidential hopefuls who have already declared — ended June 30. Campaigns have two additional weeks to get the books together before reports are sent to the Federal Election Commission and later posted online.
 
Strategists say all eyes are on former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, who has sought out to blow other candidates out of the water with his fundraising totals. 
 
Fred Malek, a top Republican donor, told The Hill he expects a “heroic number” when Bush’s campaign total is combined with his super PAC fundraising numbers.
 
Bush entered the race with just two weeks left in the fundraising period. But he spent the preceding months fundraising for his Right to Rise super PAC, which can accept unlimited funds — instead of a campaign that is hamstrung by FEC rules.
 
Because of the super PAC focus, his campaign reports will likely not come close to the record-breaking $45 million posted by Hillary Clinton on the other side of the aisle. 
 
But there’s a reason Bush still faces pressure to post an impressive total: His campaign’s unspoken pitch that he has the fundraising chops to match Clinton in a general election.
 
"Hillary went out there and threw up $45 million, he has to put up a number that looks good relative to the circumstances," O'Connell said. 
 
“You want to set the pace but also, your target is to scare the Clinton camp.”
 
Mike Murphy, the head of Right to Rise, reportedly lauded the super PAC’s success in a donor call and predicted the July filing would give Bush’s opponents “heart attacks,” according to Buzzfeed News.
 
Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, in second place behind Bush in early polls, didn’t notify the FEC of his impending candidacy until July. So his fundraising figures won’t be shared until October.
 
Sitting in third in polls, Sen. Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioSenate Dems petition Saudi king to release dissidents, US citizen Dem senator wants Trump to extend immigration protections to Venezuelans Juan Williams: Don't rule out impeaching Trump MORE (R-Fla.) faces the unique conundrum of being the other Floridian in the GOP race. A poor showing will raise concerns that Bush has outmaneuvered him to lock down the Sunshine State donor pool.
 
Other candidates aren’t expecting to topple Bush’s combined haul, but fundraising results can go a long way in proving strength and durability to help separate a candidate from the pack. Candidates can do that not only with a large top-line figure, but through cultivating a large base.
 
“If they can really wow with just raw numbers, that is very helpful to them,” said Katie Packer, 2012 Republican nominee Mitt Romney’s former deputy campaign manager.
 
“But if you have a broad, big well of donors that every time you dip in is willing to fill up your bucket, that’s very powerful.”
 
That method worked wonders for President Obama’s elections, Packer added. Obama dwarfed Romney in percentage of donors giving $200 or less during the 2012 campaign.
 
Ben CarsonBenjamin (Ben) Solomon CarsonCarson's calendar includes trips to Florida on Fridays: report The Hill's Morning Report - 2020 Dems grapple with race, gender and privilege Ben Carson says he will step down after Trump's first term ends MORE, the only Republican candidate to announce his second-quarter totals thus far, is already plugging that strategy. He announced on Wednesday an $8.3 million haul from 151,000 donors. Campaign spokesman Doug Watts told the Associated Press that none of Carson’s GOP challengers will “come even close to the number of engaged donors.”
 
Carson’s total poses a particular challenge for Sen. Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzO'Rourke: Decisions on late-term abortions 'best left to a woman and her doctor' New report details O'Rourke's prankish past O'Rourke sees 'a lot of wisdom' in abolishing Electoral College MORE (R-Texas) and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, both of whom have also touted grassroots engagement as a main catalyst for their 2016 bids. 
 
Carson, Cruz and Huckabee are thought to be competing for the same group of evangelical voters. A big fundraising win could help lock down that share of the electorate for one of them.
 
The jumbled timeline of the race so far means head-to-head numbers comparisons don’t tell the whole story. Cruz, Rubio and Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) were the first entrants into the field. Carson, Huckabee and Carly Fiorina entered towards the middle, and former Texas Gov. Rick Perry, former Sen. Rick Santorum (Pa.) and Bush much later in the quarter. 
 
Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie announced with just days left in the quarter.
  
The numbers come in at a key point in the 2016 race, because of unprecedented rules for the first debates of the primary season.
 
Debates hosted by Fox News and CNN in August and September are restricted to just the top 10 contenders, as measured by national polling. Candidates outside the top 10 will debate separately.
 
“The key thing for all of them is to get on the debate stage, you almost don’t care as much as long as you get on the debate stage,” O’Connell said. “But if you are getting locked out of the debate stage, you better be able to throw up something that exceeds expectations. ”
 
Poor fundraising totals could sink a fledgling campaign and give the impression that a candidate never truly got off of the ground. 
 
Such a problem befell former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty in 2012. He shut his campaign down shortly after missing expectations with his first quarterly report, only to find an extremely tight race where low-polling candidates were able to surge near the top as the actual primaries got closer.
 
Packer warned that while the numbers will shape narratives, the candidates’ messages and campaign strategy will have more to do with the results. 
 
Looking back at her experience battling Santorum back in 2012, she said, “We ran against a much weaker field in 2012 and Mitt Romney was without a doubt by a factor of 5 the best funded candidate in the campaign.”
 
“And we still almost lost to somebody that barely had two nickels to rub together.”
 
--Caroline Kelly contributed