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A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

More Money Doesn’t Guarantee Nomination

Q: Does the person with the most money ALWAYS win the presidential nomination?

A: No. The biggest money-raisers are beaten fairly regularly. Just ask Howard Dean.


Dean, you may recall, had raised more money than any other Democratic presidential candidate at the end of 2003, a total of $41.3 million. By contrast, the struggling John Kerry had raised $23.4 million, including $6.4 million borrowed by taking out a mortgage on a house he owned. Yet less than three weeks later Dean came in a poor third in the Iowa caucuses on Jan. 19, 2004,  lost decisively in New Hampshire on Jan. 27 and dropped out of the race Feb. 19 after a distant third-place finish in Wisconsin. That’s by no means a fluke. Other examples from recent U.S. history:

  • In the 1976 elections, Washington Sen. Henry M. "Scoop" Jackson had raised the most money of any Democratic candidate as of the end of 1975, piling up more than $2.2 million, a huge figure for the time. But he quickly faded and lost to Georgia Gov. Jimmy Carter, who had raised $929,839 during the same period, according to dusty records checked for us by the Campaign Finance Institute.
  • In the 1980 elections, former Texas Gov. John Connally had raised more than any other Republican by the start of the election year, taking in $8 million compared to Ronald Reagan’s second-place $6 million. Connally was the first candidate since the 1973 post-Watergate campaign money regulations were enacted to raise so much that he turned down federal subsidies in order to be free of spending limits. But he managed to win only a single convention delegate after eventually spending $11 million, dropped out and endorsed Reagan.
  • Republican Sen. Phil Gramm once famously observed that "ready money" is "the most reliable friend you can have in American politics." In 1995 he set a record for "early money," amassing $13.5 million as of March 31 the year before the election. That record stood until Hillary Clinton eclipsed it last year. Yet Gramm’s money bought little political support, and he dropped out of the GOP nomination race Feb. 14, 1996, days before the New Hampshire primary.

This year could well see one or two more additions to the list. The most recent fund-raising figures, as reported to the Federal Election Commission by the candidates, can be seen at opensecrets.org, the excellent Web site run by the Center for Responsive Politics. They show that as of the first nine months of last year, Hillary Clinton had raised nearly $91 million, the most of any Democratic candidate, and Mitt Romney had raised nearly $63 million, more than any other Republican. So how are the money leaders doing?

  • Romney came in second in the Iowa caucuses to Mike Huckabee, who was a poor sixth in the GOP fund-raising derby as of Sept. 30, 2007. And on Jan. 8 he lost the New Hampshire primary to John McCain, who was third in the money race.
  • On the Democratic side, Hilliary Clinton finished third in Iowa, just behind John Edwards, who had raised roughly one-third as much, before coming back to beat Barack Obama in New Hampshire on Jan. 8.

New figures are due Jan. 31, which should shed more light on the relative financial strength of the candidates in the closing months of 2007. But it’s clear that having the most money is no guarantee of getting the nomination. "Money gives you the chance to pay for a message and distribute it," says Michael J. Malbin, director of the nonpartisan Campaign Finance Institute. "It doesn’t mean people want to hear it."

– Brooks Jackson


William J. Lanouette, "Take the Money and Run," National Journal 5 Jan 1980.

Sam Howe Verhovek, "THE CONTENDERS;Phil Gramm’s Offbeat Charm As a Persistent Conservative," 27 Dec 1995.

"Top Dollar Candidates – First Quarter; Top Fundraisers through March 31st of the off-year previous to 2007 Campaign Finance Institute," undated Web site, accessed 10 Jan 2008.

"Banking on Becoming President," Center for Responsive Politics, undated Web site, accessed 10 Jan 2008.