Small donors elude Mitt Romney

Supporters of Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney at his Illinois primary night party March 20, 2012 in Schaumburg, Ill. In the battle for bucks, small donors are giving much more to Romney's GOP rivals.

Kai Ryssdal: The Obama presidential campaign of 2007-2008 was what a baseball aficionado might call 'small ball.' Instead of concentrating on big givers -- home run hitters -- they targeted small donors. Americans who could afford to give a few bucks, or a few hundred bucks. It obviously paid off.

So this time, Republicans are trying to replicate that grassroots financial strategy. But it's not working for everybody.

From Washington, Marketplace's David Gura reports.


David Gura: Give $7.50 to Newt Gingrich’s campaign, and you can get a Newt 2012 dog bandana. Ron Paul is offering pocket constitutions for $5.

Tony Corrado is a political science professor at Colby College.

Tony Corrado: We see the Santorum campaign doing very well with their promotion of, give $100 and get a Rick Santorum sweater vest.

Republicans Newt Gingrich, Rick Santorum and Ron Paul have been pretty successful with small donors.

Corrado: Generally, it’s the case that those candidates have raised 40 to 50 percent of their money from small donations.

Corrado says Mitt Romney, the other GOP candidate, is having trouble.

Corrado: The hallmark of his campaign fundraising has been his reliance on donors who can give the $2,500 maximum.

Last month, Romney raised about $12 million, and half his donors maxed out.

Bert Johnson teaches political science at Middlebury College.

Bert Johnson: The people that tend to do best in appealing to small contributors in the Republican race so far have been people have very crisp, clear and extreme positions.

And Johnson says that’s not Romney, but he still needs small donors. Candice Nelson is a government professor at American University.

Candice Nelson: The advantage of small donors is you can go back to them again and again and again. If you’ve got a large donor who maxes out, that’s it.

So sure, as campaigns and public radio fundraisers say, every dollar makes a difference. But the real value is the email address that comes with a small donation.

In Washington, I'm David Gura for Marketplace.

About the author

David Gura is a reporter for Marketplace, based in the Washington, D.C. bureau.

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