CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story incorrectly identified Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour as a bundler for Rick Perry. The bundler was Henry Barbour.
With Texas Gov. Rick Perry’s sudden entrance into the Republican presidential race this month, the money chase finally began in earnest.
Up to that point, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney had blown away his competition on the fundraising circuit. In the second quarter of 2011, he raised about $18.4 million while no other GOP candidate broke the $5 million mark. But he no longer owns the field. Romney will have to share, or even cede, donors who were exclusively his for the first part of the campaign.
Perry brings with him a large network of wealthy Texas donors cultivated during three successful runs for governor, plus extensive contacts within a nationwide network of Republican donors from two stints as chairman of the Republican Governors Association. “Perry jumping into the race creates competition for money because there’d been so much enthusiasm about him getting in it,” said GOP consultant Ron Bonjean. “At the same time, there are people waiting on the sidelines to see how the next few weeks go [for Perry], to see how the next couple debates go, to see if his campaign can take off.”
Some donors aren’t waiting. Welcome Wilson, chairman of the Houston-based GSL Welcome Group, a real estate development company, supported Romney earlier in the campaign, but switched allegiances when Perry joined the race. “I made it clear to Mitt, who I like a lot, that if by chance Rick Perry got in the race that I would be going for Rick,” Wilson said. The Romney camp did not try to persuade him to stick with them when Wilson informed the campaign of his decision. Wilson is hosting a fundraiser for Perry in Houston on Wednesday.
Another downside for Romney is the overlap between his contributors and Perry’s; both men tend to draw water from the same well. National Journal identified 24 individuals who donated to both Perry’s 2010 gubernatorial campaign and to Romney’s PAC, Free and Strong America, in the first half of 2011. Between them, they accounted for over $1 million of Perry’s fundraising for his 2010 race and almost $100,000 of Romney’s contribution-limited haul from January through June this year. Fully two-thirds of them already maxed out with $5,000 contributions to Romney’s PAC before Perry joined the fray.
Perry is also making major inroads with bundlers who have signed up to bring in sums ranging from $50,000 to $500,000, according to a new report by the Center for Public Integrity’s iWatch News.
Of course, at this point in the campaign calendar, fundraising is not a zero-sum game. “There are some people who will contribute to both,” said Republican consultant Fred Malek. “Most people who are following this closely feel that this is a race between two people … who both deserve to be finalists in this, so they can support both.” But there will likely be significant overlap in the type of supporters Romney and Perry seek. Donors and consultants alike emphasized that big business is excited about both candidates. “Romney is a businessman, and Perry created a business-friendly state,” Malek said. And given their influence over contributions to the campaigns, PACs, and super PACs this election cycle, business interests will have plenty to say about who the 2012 presidential nominee will be.
To see where the wind is blowing as Romney and Perry begin to compete in earnest, keep an eye on the "weathervanes," the people who have supported both men in the past.
Rebecca Kaplan contributed