Hillary Rodham Clinton and Jeb Bush, two establishment candidates with long-polished fundraising machines, are poised to finish the first half of the year with the most donations in a crowded 2016 presidential campaign field where the money chase is the first real primary.
Republicans Ted Cruz and Ben Carson — relative political neophytes compared to the current bearers of the Clinton and Bush dynasties — also have exceeded expectations with their early fundraising.
The rest of the field has its work cut out for it in a race that analysts say will require candidates to raise in the nine-figure amounts to stay competitive.
“If you want to be in the top tier, you probably need about $100 million. First we thought roughly $50 million, but then we realized there was a lot more money out there than we thought,” said Ford O’Connell, a GOP strategist who worked on Sen. John McCain’s 2008 campaign.
Among candidates who have provided specific fundraising totals for the second quarter, Mrs. Clinton leads the pack with $45 million raised for her presidential campaign alone, while Mr. Cruz has raised $10 million for his presidential campaign and reported $37 million more for his various super PACs.
But Mr. Bush’s longtime ally and fundraiser, Al Cardenas, told The Washington Times on Tuesday evening that the former Florida governor will report a total higher than Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Cruz within the next week.
SEE ALSO: Al Cardenas: Bush’s fundraising ‘will be the highest number total’
“I believe that the numbers reported by both Ted Cruz and Hillary Clinton are the highest numbers that will appear other than Jeb Bush’s, and by the time Jeb Bush announces, he will certainly have amassed a significant number,” Mr. Cardenas said in an interview. “He’s proud of the support he’s received.”
Mr. Cardenas declined to provide a specific amount but said “it will be the highest number total.”
To put in perspective the gap between the top and bottom of the fundraising ladder, the top three fundraising candidates are likely to each have raised through June nearly 10 times as much as former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina, a first-time GOP presidential candidate who reported Tuesday she has raised a total of $4.8 million for her campaign and super PAC so far.
Another relative newcomer to politics, Mr. Carson has surprised some with his early fundraising. The retired neurosurgeon, making his first run for political office, raised $8.3 million in the second quarter. He announced his candidacy on the same day as Mrs. Fiorina.
Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker have yet to disclose their totals but are expected to have strong showings in the fundraising game since they have built national followings.
Mr. Rubio has announced his candidacy, and Mr. Walker, who already has a super PAC and an exploratory committee, is expected to make his run official next week. The Conservative Solutions Project, a nonprofit group affiliated with Mr. Rubio, disclosed Monday it had raised $15.8 million, and its president, Pat Shortridge, said the group hopes to reach $25 million.
Fundraising is always the first primary of a presidential race. And this year, with three Democrats and 14 confirmed Republicans already in the race, money is taking on added significance. That’s because the Republican National Committee is expected to use polling data as the criteria to determine which 10 candidates get to participate in the primary debates.
Spending money on advertising and travel is one of the fastest ways for candidates to earn name recognition nationally.
“If you’re having trouble fundraising this early in the campaign — barring catching fire, some bolt of lightning — you’re struggling,” said Alex Patton, owner of Ozean Media, a consulting firm in Florida. “It’s just too crowded of a field, and combined with that crowd, and not being able to raise money, you’re probably going to see an early exit from the campaign.”
“Your strategy changes with the fact that you’ve probably got about four weeks of campaigning to break in to the top 10 before the debates,” Mr. Patton added.
Mr. Cruz’s campaign touted the Texan’s $10 million in donations in the second quarter — a leveling off of sorts after a fast start. In April, Mr. Cruz’s campaign announced he had raised about $4.3 million in the eight days after launching his presidential bid. His campaign has said its goal is to raise $40 million in the year after him jumping into the race.
All the jockeying aside, Mr. Bush and Mrs. Clinton are expected to be the first candidates in this field to get to the magic $100 million tally. That number has more significance on the GOP side, where the field could balloon to as many as 17 candidates.
“I do believe that all eyes will be on Jeb Bush. The question is, will his fundraising haul dwarf the rest of the 2016 field? If it does, he is officially the front-runner,” Mr. O’Connell said.
In such a crowded field, it’s crucial for GOP candidates to bring in big bucks in order to increase their on-air presence and improve their chances of getting into the debates, which will lead to even more donations, Mr. O’Connell said.
“The big question in this race is ‘are you on the debate stage or not?’ I think, for a lot of them, getting on the debate stage will make a huge difference in fundraising,” Mr. O’Connell said.
But beyond the debates, fundraising plays a huge role in determining who will make it past the primaries in this election. Unlike previous elections, when Iowa and New Hampshire caucuses typically knocked off the bottom hopefuls, the amount of money floating around in this election could let struggling contenders remain in the race through several of the early primaries.
“In the past Iowa and New Hampshire usually eliminated several candidates. With the amount of money being raised, that’s not really going to happen except for the couple of people at the very bottom tier,” Mr. Patton said. “They are going to be able to participate in Nevada, Florida and other states. They are going to be able to go much deeper into the primary states. It’s a dramatic change on how you operate a campaign.”
• Kellan Howell can be reached at email@example.com.
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