LETTER FROM WASHINGTON | DANA WILKIE
Bigger pond, smaller splash

April 23, 2007

Duncan Hunter is accustomed to raising a cool million for his political campaigns and dwarfing the fundraising efforts of his competitors.

When the Alpine Republican is running for re-election to his 52nd Congressional District, that is.

In a bigger pond – the race for the GOP presidential nomination – with much bigger fish, that sort of money-raising prowess doesn't go far.

During the first three months of 2007, Hunter reported raising $538,524 for his presidential bid and spending about half that – $265,971. He had $272,552 left in his campaign bank account, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, a nonpartisan watchdog that tracks money in politics and government.


 

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Not bad for 12 weeks of fundraising.

On the other hand, Hunter is No. 8 out of 10 Republican candidates in terms of how much money he raised in that period, edging out former Wisconsin Gov. Tommy Thompson, who raised $391,628, and former Virginia Gov. Jim Gilmore, who took in $203,896. Those figures are a blip compared with former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney's $23 million, former New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani's nearly $17 million and Arizona Sen. John McCain's $13 million.

On the bright side, Hunter has no debts. Better than being $2.4 million in the hole, as Romney reports.

HUNTER CASH FACTOIDS

As ranking member of the House Armed Services Committee, Hunter has drawn heavily from the defense sector. The ZIP code that gave him the most money was in La Jolla, whose residents sent him $17,250. The top-giving sector: finance, insurance and real estate, which contributed $37,750. His top single contributor: Milliken & Co., a textile company with 13,000 employees and headquarters in Spartanburg, S.C., which contributed $11,900.

The Center for Responsive Politics has a handy graph allowing one to compare Hunter's week-by-week fundraising progress with other candidates'.

The graph reveals that for almost all 12 weeks beginning Jan. 1, Hunter has done consistently better at fundraising than Gilmore or Colorado Rep. Tom Tancredo. From week to week, he either has raised more or about the same as Thompson and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee – except from mid-to late March, when Huckabee's and Thompson's fundraising efforts took off.

Hunter has gone back and forth with the likes of Kansas Sen. Sam Brownback and Texas Rep. Ron Paul – sometimes falling behind, sometimes pulling ahead, sometimes even.

Now on to the big boys, where the picture is – well you can't really see the picture.

To be more precise, you can't really see the violet-colored bar on this graph that represents Hunter's fundraising, not when it is compared to the money raked in by top-tier candidates. In a side-by-side graphic comparison, one needs reading glasses to make out the razor-thin line representing Hunter's contributions, which sit beside the skyscraper-like bars representing the likes of Romney, McCain and Giuliani.

“Hunter has proved a competitive fundraiser since he was elected to represent California's 52nd District in 1981,” writes the Center for Responsive Politics. “But his fundraising total in the first quarter was less than remarkable compared to (those of) other candidates.”

EARNING THE REMARKABLE

Don't wave that quote in front of Roy Tyler, the spokesman for Hunter's presidential campaign. An affable sort, Tyler nonetheless bristles a bit when one asks about the center's characterization of the congressman's fundraising.

“I would say the Center for Responsive Politics' remark was less than remarkable,” Tyler said, noting that the campaign raised more than $500,000 with very little national fundraising, and that Hunter's telemarketing, mailing and Internet campaigns didn't kick off until after the year's first quarter had ended. “How about a disclosure from top-tier candidates on how much they spent and how many high-priced consultants they had working in the Spartanburg, S.C., straw poll compared to our campaign?”

Tyler is referring to Hunter's strong results in countywide Republican straw polls in South Carolina, where some top-tier candidates spent hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Tyler added, “The remarkable news of this campaign may be that voters actually prefer someone who earns their respect, as opposed to buying it.”

Dana Wilkie is a Washington-based correspondent for Copley News Service and a longtime observer of California politics and social issues.

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