Washington — For most Louisiana households, $9.2 million represents a whole lot of money.
That’s how much supporters of Gov. Bobby Jindal raised through June 30 in an effort to win him the 2016 Republican presidential nomination, according to reports filed with the federal government and to information from the Jindal camp, covering Jindal’s official campaign committee and independent political groups aligned with him.
Even in the hyperinflated world of campaign fundraising for the 2016 presidential election cycle, $9.2 million is not chicken feed. But it’s far short of the amounts amassed to back other Republican contenders, including $119.4 million for former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, $51.3 million for U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, of Texas, and $45.2 million for U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, of Florida.
Four other Republican candidates were outpacing Jindal by lesser amounts in the fundraising competition through June 30. (The current leader in the polls, real estate developer and reality TV celebrity Donald Trump, is a billionaire who has not mounted a fundraising effort to compete with his rivals.)
Is the Jindal stash big enough?
“This nomination is going to be an earned nomination,” Jindal’s campaign manager, Timmy Teepell, said. “It’s not going to be bought.”
Jindal’s strategy is to focus on the states deciding early in the nomination process, and he has campaigned heavily in Iowa, which kicks things off with its Feb. 1 caucuses. Next up is New Hampshire, with its Feb. 9 primary. Both traditionally value face-to-face retail politics.
“These are smaller states, where the voters take their responsibilities seriously,” Teepell said. “They take the time to get to know the candidates, so you have plenty of opportunity to share your message.”
“You need money to run a campaign,” Teepell said, “but oddly enough, in these sorts of races, money is not the most important factor. The message is important. The candidate, his experience, his vision is important.”
Jindal “absolutely” has the financial wherewithal to get his message across in Iowa, and beyond, Teepell said. And if Jindal runs strongly in the early states, he will attract the donations he needs to extend his campaign, Teepell said. However, that’s a big “if”: Jindal consistently runs near the back of the large Republican pack in opinion polls in Iowa, New Hampshire and nationally, typically scoring in the low single digits.
Jindal has appeared as the featured speaker at numerous town hall-style meetings with voters across Iowa. The meetings are sponsored by Believe Again, the single-candidate independent political action committee, or super PAC, dedicated to his election, which also is paying for TV commercials touting Jindal in the state.
Believe Again accounted for $3.7 million of the total pro-Jindal haul by June 30, including the single largest reported donation to the effort: $1 million from Gary Chouest, of Galliano, head of the offshore oilfield services company Edison Chouest.
Another pro-Jindal vehicle, America Next, has taken in about $4 million since it was formed in 2013, according to Jindal associates, but it is not required to report its donors or their specific donations.
“We continue to succeed at raising the money we need to fund our plans,” Believe Again manager Brad Todd said in an email. The super PAC will not release details of its activities prior to its next federal report, due in January, he said.
A campaign spends money on travel, office rental, field staff, pollsters, consultants, printing and sending mail pieces, and, of course, political advertising. “Even in Iowa, where the emphasis is put on the ground game and you’re meeting people in cafes and restaurants, you still have to run commercials,” said David Crockett, chairman of the political science department at Trinity University in Texas.
And if the official Jindal campaign is running a lean operation in Iowa, as it claims — it has not opened a headquarters there — the Jindal effort has spent freely on TV advertising, with Believe Again planning to air a new round of statewide commercials Tuesday. Through Sept. 1, team Jindal has spent $1.6 million on TV ads, all of it in Iowa, which ranks it first in that state and third overall among Republicans, according to NBC News.
“Money is a huge advantage in many elections,” said Costas Panagopoulos, director of the Center for Electoral Politics and Democracy at Fordham University in New York. “It doesn’t ensure victory, but particularly in primaries, money can be very helpful because you don’t have partisan cues to guide voting choices.”
But beyond that, Panagopoulos said, “money tends to follow prospects for victory. To the extent that Jindal’s fundraising is not on a par with his Republican opponents, that will be a signal about his viability as a candidate. Even though nine or 10 million dollars might be a sizable amount of money and enough to get the word out, if his opponents are raising two, three, 10 times that, it will signal that their prospects for victory are greater.”
Still, he said, popular support can make up for a lack of cash.
“There were candidates who were effectively broke before the Iowa and New Hampshire contests and were able to do very well in those contests and to leverage their performance to amass more funds very quickly,” Panagopoulos said. He specifically cited the 2008 performance of U.S. Sen. John McCain, of Arizona, whose campaign nearly collapsed in 2007 before he rallied to win the New Hampshire primary and ultimately, the nomination.
Jindal’s financial backing should be enough for him to compete in the early states, Panagopoulos said. “But the problem for Jindal,” he said, “is likely not money, but the other factors: why his campaign is not getting the attention he’d like it to have.”
The weakness of Jindal’s popular appeal, as reflected in the polls, makes his relatively low standing as a fundraiser that much more difficult to overcome in the slog toward the nomination, University of Kansas political scientist Patrick Miller said.
“In the primaries, the long game is very important,” Miller said. “The early primaries are part of the winnowing process: winnowing out people who are not viable. The candidates who are going to stay are those who have support and/or money.”
If a $20 million haul were topping the fundraising scoreboard in this election cycle, then Jindal’s total might not be seriously detrimental, Miller said. But that’s not the case in a year of record fundraising, with $300 million showering down on the Republican field by June 30.
“Jindal is at a disadvantage in that sense,” Miller said. “Nine or 10 million dollars is not going to give him staying power against Trump and Bush and Cruz and Rubio, who are out-fundraising him.
“Jeb Bush can outspend Bobby Jindal 12 to 1,” Miller said. “It’s hard to fight against that.”
Crockett points to a different example from McCain’s career to argue that the fundraising gap may be too big for Jindal to overcome, regardless of how he fares in the early states. By the Iowa caucuses in 2000, Jeb Bush’s brother, George W. Bush, had collected $70 million for his campaign — the pace-setting total of the day — and prevailed over McCain to win the nomination, despite losing to McCain in New Hampshire.
Far more often than not, Crockett said, the candidate leading in fundraising before the Iowa caucuses wins the nomination. That candidate can act early to build a nationwide election organization, and an influx of funds to a less well-financed rival following an early-state win usually is just “too little, too late,” he said.
After the first four states of Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada — none of them among the 20 most populous states — hold their caucuses or primaries in February, a cluster of larger states joins in on March 1, including Texas, No. 2 in the nation in both population and size.
“You have to be competitive in Iowa and New Hampshire,” Crockett said, “but it’s also really important to be competitive on March 1.”
Gregory Roberts is chief of The Advocate Washington bureau. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org and he is on Twitter, @GregRobertsDC. For more coverage of national government and politics, follow The Advocate Politics Blog at http://blogs.theadvocate.com/politicsblog.