Polls predicting the results of the South Carolina primary Saturday caught national attention this week, but for months another race has been underway in the state. The money race.
Donors in South Carolina gave more than $3.5 million to presidential candidates in 2015, including $243,000 from residents in Beaufort and Jasper counties, according to the Federal Elections Commission.
Though donor information for the beginning of 2016 will not be available until the day after the Republican primary, last year’s donations offer some insight into where local residents are staking their money in the race.
▪ Trump doesn’t need your money Though businessman Donald Trump has long dominated polls in South Carolina, he had very few local campaign donations. Trump raised only $451 from just two Beaufort County donors last year. That is less in local donations than almost any other presidential candidate in the race, including Rick Santorum, Rick Perry and Scott Walker, who have all suspended their campaigns.
That is largely due to Trump’s campaign messages, said Jim Riordan, chairman of the Beaufort County Republican Party.
“He’s priding himself on being self-funding,” Riordan said. “He says he doesn’t need your money, so I would think that might shut down the fundraising.”
▪ Bush, Kasich find friends in the Lowcountry Both former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and Ohio Gov. John Kasich did relatively well in Beaufort and Jasper counties, compared with their fundraising in the rest of South Carolina.
For Bush, local donations accounted for about 15 percent of his total fundraising in the state, with $26,800 raised in Beaufort and Jasper County. Among presidential candidates, Bush had the highest average donation from local donors at $1,340.
“I think Bush is the most experienced person for the job,” said Tom Cameron, of Okatie, who donated to the Bush campaign. “I wanted to give my money to someone who is mentally prepared to take on that level of leadership.”
As for Kasich, more money in campaign donations came from Beaufort County than from any other county in the state, with the county accounting for about 33 percent of the Kasich campaign donations in South Carolina last year. Still, Kasich raised less than most of the other leading candidates locally with $8,400 raised in the county in 2015.
Political experts attribute those donations to the large number of transplants to South Carolina in this area, including many former Ohioans.
Lynn Burt, of Bluffton, said she decided to donate money to Kasich’s campaign after seeing him at a campaign event.
“I think he has the ability to bring people together,” Burt, a New Jersey native, said. “And I think he has the best experience to be president between his time in Washington and what he’s been able to do in Ohio.”
▪ Carson garners most individual donations Neurosurgeon Ben Carson had the most individual donations to his campaign among local donors in 2015, though some people made multiple donations throughout the year.
Many of the donations were made, however, in months when Carson was among leading candidates in the polls, before his numbers began to fall in November last year.
Patrick Baker, of Bluffton, made three small donations to Carson’s campaign last year. But after Carson had disappointing results in the first two primaries in this election cycle in Iowa and New Hampshire, Baker decided to switch his support to Kasich.
“I really like Ben and read several of his books, but I realized that he’s not got any political pull,” said Baker, an Air Force veteran who relocated to South Carolina after years living in Alaska.
Besides South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, who has since suspended his campaign, Carson raised the most money among Republican candidates in both South Carolina and Beaufort County in 2015 with a total of $399,566 raised in the state.
▪ Cruz, Rubio close in money race After Carson, both Florida Sen. Marco Rubio and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz were among the candidates that raised the most money in South Carolina.
Rubio raised $328,775 in the state, with large portions of his donations coming from both the Lowcountry and the Upstate. He raised $24,210 in Beaufort and Jasper counties.
Cruz raised slightly more than Rubio in 2015, bringing in $336,845 in South Carolina and $33,739 among donors in Beaufort and Jasper counties.
▪ Clinton out-raises Sanders Former Secretary of State Hilary Clinton far out-raised Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders in Beaufort County donations for Democratic presidential candidates last year, raising $43,000 to Sanders’ less than $4,000 among donors in Beaufort and Jasper counties.
“I think there are roots with Clinton here and a familiarity with what she has done that just wasn’t there for Sanders,” said Beaufort County Democratic Party chairman Blaine Lotz, who has endorsed Clinton.
But Lotz said he suspects Sanders’ fundraising will show significant increases in the county in the first months of 2016 after Sanders was able to outperform expectations in the early primaries.