South Carolinians were opening their check books for Republican Ted Cruz and Democrat Hillary Clinton at the end of 2015.
Cruz, a U.S. senator from Texas enjoying a rise in the polls heading into the New Year, topped all Republican presidential candidates in S.C. campaign contributions during the final three months of 2015, according to an analysis of federal election data.
But Cruz, the winner of this week’s Iowa caucus, ranked only third for all of 2015 among the active GOP presidential candidates, trailing, among others, U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida. Rubio is expected to see a spike in S.C. contributions after his surprise showing in the Hawkeye State this week, and a pro-Rubio political action committee has received major contributions from S.C. donors.
Among Democrats, Hillary Clinton’s commanding lead in S.C. polls over Bernie Sanders has carried over to contributions as well. Still, the Vermont senator enjoyed a small surge in S.C. fund raising at the end of the year.
Cruz in control, for now
U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-Seneca, was the top Republican fundraiser in his home state during 2015, taking in nearly $1.5 million – more than the race’s top five active GOP candidates combined. But Graham left the race in December when his contributions dwindled.
Meanwhile, Donald Trump – the front-runner in the GOP race, according to national and S.C. polls – has done little to seek donations among rank-and-file voters. Trump raised just $30,600 in the South Carolina – enough to run his private Boeing 757 jet for about three hours.
Instead, the fundraising attention in South Carolina late last year went to Cruz, who has been working statewide to court evangelical Christian voters. Those voters were a key to the Texan’s success in Iowa Monday and they could be in South Carolina, too. About 6-in-10 GOP voters in Iowa and South Carolina identify themselves as evangelicals.
However, Cruz is finding support in uncommon spots for a social conservative.
Cruz received the bulk of his S.C. campaign money from the Charleston area, known for embracing more establishment and libertarian candidates, according to an analysis of Federal Election Commission data by The State newspaper.
In another twist on conventional wisdom in state GOP politics, Florida’s Rubio, the top establishment hopeful in the now nine-candidate field, has received the bulk of his S.C. contributions from the Greenville area, historically socially conservative.
Still, Cruz is getting about a third of his S.C. money from the Upstate. He out-raised Rubio in the Spartanburg area, for example, by a 5-to-1 margin last year.
Rubio and Trump, who leads among S.C. evangelical voters in polls, have attracted some social conservatives, who typically would gravitate to Cruz, Winthrop University political scientist Scott Huffmon said. And Rubio could attract more of that support. Former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum, R-Pa., a social conservative who finished third in the state’s 2012 primary, endorsed Rubio Wednesday after quitting the presidential race.
“No one candidate can congeal all evangelical voters behind them in South Carolina, though they’ll try before our primary,” Huffmon said.
Cruz and Rubio are less than $10,000 apart in overall S.C. fund raising after Cruz collected nearly a GOP-best $200,000 in the final three months of the year double that of his previous quarter. Cruz’s average donation in South Carolina – $155 – is half of Rubio’s $387.
Rubio also got some extra help.
A pro-Rubio PAC, Conservative Solutions, has raised $250,000 from two S.C. donors, Collum’s Sawmill in Allendale and Titan Farms in Ridge Spring. No South Carolinians have given to the pro-Cruz PAC, Keep The Promise.
Since Iowa, Rubio has risen to second in polls in New Hampshire, which holds the next GOP presidential primary Tuesday. South Carolina, where Rubio is in third in the polls, follows Feb. 20.
“Cruz had the momentum at the end of the year, but I’m not sure that is not with Rubio now,” said Walter Whetsell, a S.C. political operative who worked for former Texas Gov. Rick Perry’s presidential campaign. “Before that, it was Ben Carson, who was hot.”
Sparked by a fall surge in the polls as the quiet anti-Trump, the retired Maryland neurosurgeon raised the most money in South Carolina in 2015 among all active GOP candidates. Carson also had the most donors in South Carolina – more than 3,000 – but his average donation of $130 is much smaller than his GOP competitors’.
But, late in the year, Carson’s S.C. fund raising slid like his poll numbers. His S.C. contributions dropped by 25 percent in the fourth quarter compared to the previous three months. Carson is fifth in S.C. polls.
The state’s early front-runner, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, has struggled to match the fund raising of his GOP opponents. Bush’s S.C. contributions fell by two-thirds in the final two quarters of 2015 as his campaign failed to ignite.
And, after receiving $71,000 from South Carolinians in the first half of the year, the pro-Bush Right to Rise super PAC received no contributions from S.C. donors in 2015’s second half.
That’s a sign the former governor needs a strong showing in New Hampshire. Bush is hovering in fourth in S.C. polls, led by Trump and Cruz.
The Democratic money race in South Carolina is not as close as among the Republicans.
Clinton, a former secretary of state who holds a 30 percentage point lead in S.C. polls for the Feb. 27 Democratic primary, has out-raised Sanders by a 5-to-1 margin in the Palmetto State.
Sanders closed the margin slightly in the last three months of 2015, raising half of his $88,000 total for all of 2015.
As might be expected in a campaign that emphasizes populist issues, such as fighting Wall Street, the average Sanders contribution in South Carolina is small $70, or nearly five time less than Clinton’s average of $338.
Both Democratic hopefuls have raised most of their money – roughly a third of all their S.C. contributions – from the Charleston area. The pair also come close to raising the same share of their money from the Midlands.
But Sanders is getting much more of his campaign cash from the Upstate than Clinton.
“After you take away all the white conservatives in the Upstate, you are left with some very liberal white voters,” Huffmon said.
Republican S.C. presidential money
S.C. contributions to the top five active GOP presidential candidates, according to recent state polls
Fourth quarter, change from previous quarter
Cruz: $197,500, up 138%
Carson: $138,400, down 25%
Rubio: $122,300, up 8%
Bush: $31,000, down 66%
Trump: $9,900, down 35%
2015 total raised
Democratic S.C. presidential money
S.C. contributions to the top Democratic candidates, according to recent state polls
Fourth quarter, change from previous quarter
Clinton: $146,300, up 62%
Sanders: $48,000, up 79%
2015 total raised
Average S.C. contributions to the top active presidential fundraisers
Bush: $858, 220 contributors
Rubio: $387, 875 contributors
Trump: $340, 90 contributors
Cruz: $155, 2,130 contributors
Carson: $130, 3,080 contributors
Clinton: $338, 1,420 contributors
Sanders: $70, 1,260 contributors
S.C.’s big donors
Several S.C. donors gave large sums to super political-action committees advocating for 2016 Republican presidential candidates. Here are the contributions over $25,000 last year, according to Federal Election Commission records. (No S.C. donors gave to Democratic candidate PACs):
Conservative Solutions (Marco Rubio)
▪ Collum’s Sawmill, Allendale: $200,000
▪ Titan Farms, Ridge Spring: $50,000
Right to Rise (Jeb Bush)
▪ Patrick O’Shaughnessy, Advance America chief executive, Spartanburg: $25,000
Security is Strength (Lindsey Graham)
▪ S.C. Conservative Action Alliance, Columbia: $140,000
▪ George Johnson, Johnson Development chairman, Spartanburg: $50,000
▪ Anita Zucker, Intertech Group chief executive, Charleston: $40,000
▪ Circle Creek Holdings, Greenville: $25,000