Washington — The good news for Gov. Bobby Jindal is that he raised more money for his presidential campaign in the past three months than three of his rivals for the 2016 Republican nomination: former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum, of Pennsylvania, former New York Gov. George Pataki and former Virginia Gov. Jim Gilmore.
The bad news is that Jindal’s July-September fundraising lagged behind that of 11 other Republican contenders, including four who raised more than 10 times the $579,438.39 that Jindal’s campaign said it had collected in its quarterly filing Thursday with the Federal Election Commission.
“Jindal’s level of fundraising in this quarter is a pittance,” said Costas Panagopoulos, director of the Center for Electoral Politics and Democracy at Fordham University in New York. “Money signals how viable a candidate can be, and my guess is that Jindal’s race for president is effectively over.”
“It’s an embarrassing total,” said Larry Sabato, director of the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia.
Jindal’s campaign is “dead in the water” and has been for some time, Sabato said. “Some of these candidates just won’t accept reality.”
Jindal’s supporters see a different reality. They point to Jindal’s recent uptick in an opinion poll in Iowa, site of the Feb. 1 caucuses that officially begin the Republican nomination process. Jindal’s 6 percent rating put him in a tie for fifth in the large Republican field.
Jindal has focused his campaign in Iowa, spending more time there than any other candidate except Santorum. Even after the quarterly FEC filing Thursday, Jindal’s campaign spokeswoman, Shannon Dirmann, predicted a victory in Iowa.
Jindal’s strategy calls for him to build on Iowa to compete in later caucuses and primaries. That would follow the model of Santorum in 2012, when he came from well behind the leaders in the polls to finish first in Iowa. He went on to win 10 more states before losing out to the eventual nominee, Mitt Romney.
“Theoretically, it’s possible,” Sabato said. But the Republican field is deeper and stronger this year than in 2012, he said. “It just increases the odds against another Santorum-like performance.”
Another phenomenon of this election cycle that was less in evidence four years ago may work to Jindal’s advantage, in light of his campaign’s fundraising difficulties: the rise of the independent political action committee dedicated to one candidate. Those single-candidate super PACs are the product of federal court rulings five years ago, and their impact has mushroomed in this cycle.
Nearly every candidate in the Republican field can count on super PAC support. Unlike campaign committees, which under federal law cannot accept contributions of more than $2,700 per individual donor (and nothing at all from corporations or labor unions), super PACs can load up on unlimited donations from any non-foreign source.
The super PACs have altered traditional campaign rhythms that pared the field as candidates failed to make headway, said John McGlennon, chairman of the government faculty at the College of William & Mary, in Virginia.
“This is a contest in which the winnowing out is taking a whole lot longer, just in the way that super PACs can prop up a campaign that hasn’t shown any movement,” he said.
The super PACs technically are barred from coordinating their activities with a candidate’s official campaign, but the boundaries are fuzzy and enforcement lax.
Jindal is among the candidates testing the limits: The Believe Again super PAC has hosted dozens of town halls across Iowa for voters to meet Jindal, whose schedule has meshed neatly with that of the super PAC, and it has spent $2.5 million on pro-Jindal TV commercials in Iowa through September, a figure at or near the top of the field.
Super PACs must disclose their contributions and expenditures, but less often than official campaign committees. Believe Again said it took in $3.7 million in the first half of 2015, and another pro-Jindal group, the American Future Project, reported $1 million in contributions. A third Jindal-aligned organization — a “dark money” nonprofit group that need not disclose its donors — has collected $4 million since its 2013 formation, a spokesman said.
Neither Believe Again nor the American Future Project need to file a new report until January. Brad Todd of Believe Again has said the super PAC has been successful in its fundraising for Jindal. But again, as with the official campaign committees, the total of independent money supporting Jindal is dwarfed by the amounts supporting several of his rivals.
At least two Republican candidates have discovered that abundant super PAC money does not solve all campaign ills. Former Texas Gov. Rick Perry, despite the backing of more than $16 million in super PAC funds, dropped out of the race Sept. 11, mainly because his campaign committee ran low on cash. And Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, with more than $26 million collected by independent groups behind him, withdrew 10 days later in the face of declining poll numbers and dwindling financial support.
“I’m skeptical that a candidate who is solely reliant on their super PAC is really going to be able to leverage that into any kind of a real campaign,” said Robert Boatright, a political scientist at Clark University in Massachusetts.
Some of the problems that derailed Perry and Walker likely were due to poor management of resources, and the Jindal campaign has emphasized its “lean and mean” operation in Iowa, where it has not opened a headquarters and supplements its paid staff with volunteers. But the Jindal campaign spent $832,000 in July-September, which is more than it took in during that period. The campaign ended September with $261,000 in cash on hand.
Because of the limitations on contribution amounts, a candidate’s ability to attract donations to his or her campaign committee indicates the breadth of support for the campaign, as it requires numerous donors to build up the numbers — and in that regard, the fundraising shortcomings of the Jindal campaign don’t bode well for his electoral success.
Nor is that the only bad sign for Jindal.
Despite his recent improvement in the Iowa poll, he runs near the back of the pack in national surveys, routinely registering 1 percent or less. That has relegated him to the “undercard” in the first two nationally televised debates of the campaign — the not-ready-for-prime-time gathering of the also-rans, telecast before the main event featuring the poll leaders — and he’s on track for another “happy hour” performance at the Oct. 28 CNBC debate, an assignment his campaign is fervently pressing CNBC to change.
Jindal also is faring poorly in the “invisible primary” of endorsements, historically a potent indicator of success in winning the nomination. Unlike 10 of his Republican rivals, Jindal has received no endorsements from either sitting governors or members of Congress.
“The fact that he doesn’t have a lot of money is not all that lethal,” Boatright said, adding that Jindal may still have his moment in the campaign. “It’s the lack of attention that people are paying to him that’s keeping him from raising money,” he said.
“His difficulty may be that at some point, the funders of the super PAC may expect more movement, more tangible evidence that he’s making a difference,” McGlennon said. “The fact that he isn’t generating a lot of grass-roots support for his own campaign would be a troubling sign for those donors,” he said.
“At the end of the day,” Panagopoulos said, “no one wants to keep pouring money into a losing battle.
“It’s hard to know what exactly Jindal has in this race,” he said. “There’s no evidence of strength of any kind. When you look at his candidacy, it’s just weakness across the board.”
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