It’s the money, stupid: Debate host city a familiar place for Obama and Romney

Chris Moody
Political Reporter
The Ticket

BOCA RATON, Fla.—When President Barack Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney arrive here for the final presidential debate Monday night, they will both be in a place that has played a significant role in funding their campaigns.

There's a unique reason why South Florida is such a must-stop on the trail: Not only is Florida a crucial state, but the communities surrounding Monday's debate site at Lynn University together serve as one of the most important political fundraising hubs in the nation. South Florida is one of the only places where in a single afternoon, the candidates can rally with swing voters and then go on to host a multimillion-dollar fundraiser on the same block.

They can't do that in California or New York, the two other big moneymakers that everyone assumes will support Obama in November. In those states, Obama and Romney drop in for a fundraiser and pass on a public rally. Here, they do both.

The president, the GOP challenger and their running mates have traveled to this region frequently during their campaigns. The most notorious event this election year, of course, was held right here in Boca Raton, where a secret videotape caught Romney disparaging "47 percent" of the electorate in front of big-money donors. The revelation of the hidden camera, first published in the left-leaning Mother Jones magazine, dominated local and national media for weeks, and Obama still brings it up on the campaign trail.

Florida residents are the fourth-largest spenders on politics this election cycle, dropping about $151 million since 2011, according to Federal Election Commission data compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics. Obama has received about $11.8 million of that to Romney's $23.5 million. The island of Palm Beach, an elite sliver of land home to Rush Limbaugh and David Koch, comes in as Romney's fifth-largest donation base in the country, with $1.82 million.

In West Palm Beach and Boca Raton, donors so far have given $3.9 million to Romney and $1.4 million to Obama.

Combined, the communities in Boca Raton and the Palm Beaches spend the most in Florida on political campaigns. In 2011 and 2012, the area has dropped nearly $32.5 million on candidates and committees, with Miami a close second at about $29.5 million. Fort Lauderdale kicks in another $11.5 million. Add it up, and the 90-mile stretch from north Palm Beach County to Miami has spent a whopping $73.5 million on politics in the past two years.

While both candidates rely on money here, Republicans dominate the community around Lynn University. Residents here gave more than $174,000 to the Republican National Committee and $92,194 to Romney's campaign this election cycle. Obama's campaign has received $41,172 here, while $252,060 has gone to help Democratic House and Senate candidates.

Donations from Palm Beach County go heavily to Republicans, 56 percent to 24 percent, but it's more evenly split in Miami-Dade County, where 44 percent of political donations go to Republicans and 41 percent to Democrats. In Broward County, which separates the two, Republicans dominate 57-41 percent.

Super PACs backing both candidates have also received major donations from the area. In downtown West Palm Beach and the area surrounding it, more money has gone to Restore Our Future and Priorities USA Action, two super PACs supporting Romney and Obama, respectively, than to the candidates themselves. Restore Our Future has received $4 million from residents there, and Priorities USA has raked in $1.2 million. On the elite Palm Beach Island, nearly $2.8 million has gone to Romney and the RNC, with another half a million poured into Restore Our Future. About $172,000 has gone to Obama.

So while the candidates deliver their obligatory thanks to the host university and an homage to the Sunshine State during their opening remarks at Monday night's debate, perhaps they should also extend a special bit of gratitude to the check writers of South Florida.

After all, they wouldn't be there without them.