2012 candidates face crucial fundraising deadline

Holly Bailey
The Ticket

Rick Perry has had a rough week on the campaign trail, amid criticism over his shaky debate performances and conservative gripes over his stance on immigration.

But ahead of Friday's third-quarter presidential fundraising deadline, the political world is wondering: Did any of Perry's recent campaign setbacks hurt the Texas governor with donors?

That's just one of the big questions that could be answered in the aftermath of Friday's Federal Election Commission deadline. The third-quarter fundraising results stand to offer revealing clues on which 2012 candidates have the cash to endure what could be a messy primary fight and which ones don't.

Not unlike the debates, much of the focus will be on Perry and Mitt Romney—namely whether Perry, who had been branded a "savior" when he joined the race just seven weeks ago, outraised the ex-Massachusetts governor. So far, both campaigns have been trying to play the expectations game: Romney's camp says Perry will likely have raised more cash, while Perry's team says that Romney has been in the race longer and could emerge on top.

But the FEC deadline will also answer other key questions: Is President Obama doing any better when it comes to mobilizing his small donor army? Does Michele Bachmann have the cash she needs to make Iowa a competitive race? And how much of his own cash has Jon Huntsman spent on his 2012 campaign?

Technically, the candidates aren't required to file their financial reports, which cover fundraising between July 1 and Sept. 30, until Oct. 15. (Huntsman's report will also cover June, since he joined the race that month.) But most campaigns leak out their financial numbers well ahead of their actual filings, in hopes that those numbers may help them gain momentum in the "invisible primary" of money-raising.

Here's a quick look at what the campaigns are saying—and what's at stake:

Barack Obama. Even before the president filed his last FEC report, his top advisers were already setting low expectations for summer fundraising. Obama campaign chief Jim Messina told reporters in a July conference call that the president's re-election effort did not expect to match the $86 million Obama raised between April and June. "Summer is always slow," Messina said. But in spite of his record low approval numbers and political drama back in Washington, the president has still kept a busy schedule of pricey fundraisers over the last few months, including celebrity-studded soirees in New York and Los Angeles. But the biggest question will be where Obama stands with small donors, which is frequently a gauge of how much momentum a campaign has with average people. On Wednesday, The Ticket noticed an obvious effort by the Obama campaign to woo small contributors. Did it work?

Rick Perry. The Texas governor's campaign hasn't offered many specific details on how well—or not—their boss's fundraising is going. Insiders say Perry will raise more than $10 million—a threshold that seems pretty low for a governor known as one of the most successful Republican fundraisers in the country. But a lower early-campaign take would also contradict other details that Perry's team has leaked about the money primary, including word that he's signed up more than 400 campaign "bundlers" committed to raising tens of thousands of dollars for his campaign. On Tuesday, the Dallas Morning News reported Perry had raised more than $20 million in the early days of his campaign—a figure Perry officials quickly disputed. (The paper later clarified to say that the $20 million figure represented "commitments" from donors, who might not necessarily give this quarter.) The back-and-forth illustrates the dilemma Perry faces with his first FEC report: Even if he beats Romney's total, Perry's campaign will be damaged if his third-quarter total isn't perceived as impressive. A lower number means that his staff will likely argue that Perry has been in the race less than two months. But the governor all but admitted he was running in late May—leaving plenty of time for his advisers to woo GOP donors aching for an alternative to Romney and ask them to have their checks ready.

Mitt Romney. Romney's campaign is the only one putting a specific number on what he'll report to the FEC—kind of. On Wednesday, Eric Fehrnstrom told MSNBC that his boss wouldn't raise the $18.3 million he raised between April and June. "We won't do that for this quarter," he said. "We expect to be outraised by Rick Perry." But even if Perry does end up besting Romney this quarter, there are larger questions for the ex-governor: How much less did he raise this quarter? Is he doing better among small donors? (Most of his cash came from big donors last cycle.) Has he expanded his donor base—and are any of those people former contributors to President Obama?

Ron Paul. The Texas congressman is one of the true financial wild cards in the 2012 primary. While it seems unlikely he has a shot at the nomination, his ability to raise major amounts of cash through his passionate donor network means that he could have a major influence on the race. He raised $4.5 million during the second quarter—and, according to his campaign, is poised to raise slightly more than that by Friday's deadline, thanks in part to a series of "money bombs" he's organized on his website in recent weeks that have taken in more than $1 million apiece.

Newt Gingrich. The former House Speaker ended the second quarter roughly a $1 million in the red, after a campaign implosion that led to the resignation of most of his senior staff. One of his ex-staffers' complaints: that Gingrich was a lazy fundraiser--a charge his new team disputes. Money woes kept him out of key GOP events, like the Iowa Straw Poll. But Gingrich has enjoyed a boost in the polls in recent weeks—hitting double digits for the first time in months. The question is whether he'll have the cash to help keep his name in the mix as the focus of the race shifts to key primary states like Iowa and New Hampshire.

Herman Cain. The former Godfather's Pizza executive hasn't said what kind of FEC numbers he'll post, but chances are they will be higher than the $2.5 million he raised earlier this year. That's because Cain has gained attention in recent months thanks to his debate performance--together with his win at this weekend's Florida straw poll. The question is whether any of that publicity resulted in a major influx of cash.

Michele Bachmann. The former Minnesota congresswoman was once a feared presence in the Republican primary, in part because of her ability to raise big cash from a fervent tea party base. But Bachmann spent big to narrowly win Iowa's straw poll in August. And lately there have been rumors that her online fundraising hasn't kept up with the campaign's expectations. This week, she sent a series of online appeals to her fundraising list asking for campaign cash. Aides won't put a number on how much they expect to raise by Friday's deadline—and we'll have to wait at least two more weeks for that number. Alice Stewart, Bachmann's spokeswoman, told The Ticket that the Bachmann campaign won't release fundraising numbers until it files her report with the FEC.

Jon Huntsman. Because of his late entry into the race, Huntsman didn't file a FEC report in July—though aides at the time said he raised $4.1 million, most of which was his own money. One thing observers are looking for is whether Huntsman has been able to tap into any significant fundraising base in the months since or if he's dipped into his own bank account again to keep his campaign afloat.

Rick Santorum. The former Pennsylvania senator has openly admitted he's had trouble raising cash for his longshot 2012 bid. Between May and June, he raised just over $582,000—the lowest number of all the candidates in the Republican field. While he told ABC News his campaign has seen an "uptick" in contributions after his recent debate appearances, Santorum has admitted he's unlikely raise more than $1 million this quarter.