For Hillary Rodham Clinton, having the right people in place was the key to the “silent primary” period from July to September, as she spent $5.5 million on payroll — more than a fifth of her outlays — to keep her massive operation humming.
Her chief competitor in the Democratic presidential primary, Sen. Bernard Sanders, ran a much leaner campaign, with just 8 percent on payroll. Instead, he poured more than a quarter of his spending — some $3.1 million — into hats, T-shirts and bumper stickers to supply his enthusiastic fans.
With the first major fundraising reports of the campaign cycle now submitted, the candidates’ priorities and the kinds of campaigns they are running are becoming clearer, and most of them are playing true to form.
Mrs. Clinton and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush are running traditional-looking campaigns, spending heavily on personnel and consultants, while their challengers are trying everything from heavy ad buys to costly computer database analysis to try to identify voters and donors.
Then there is Republican front-runner Donald Trump, whose campaign appears to be more streamlined than those of many of his competitors. His top expenses have gone toward airfare as he jets across the country for massive rallies and press interviews.
“It is clear the various candidates have very different priorities,” said Darrell M. West, director of governance studies at the Brookings Institution. “Some, such as Clinton and Bush, are investing heavily in personnel with the idea that having a physical footprint in the early states is crucial for their electoral success. Others who are less well known are putting money into marketing that will raise their profile and put them in a stronger position with voters.”
The top line item for each candidate is telling. On the Republican side, businesswoman Carly Fiorina spent the most on digital consulting. Sen. Ted Cruz’s top line was printing and postage, followed by donor modeling. Sen. Marco Rubio shelled out for consulting and Web services, Ohio Gov. John Kasich paid for airfare and Sen. Rand Paul spent for online advertising.
Just as significant is how quickly the campaigns were spending the cash they collected — known as the “burn rate.” Campaigns with high burn rates at this point are likely not sustainable unless the candidate can invest his or her own money, as Mr. Trump can.
Former Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who dropped out of the race last month amid a cash shortage, notched a burn rate of 392 percent — meaning he spent nearly four times as much money in the quarter as he raised.
Others with burn rates above 100 percent were former Sen. Rick Santorum, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, Sen. Rand Paul, Sen. Lindsey Graham and former New York Gov. George Pataki on the Republican side, and former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley and former Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Chafee on the Democratic side.
Meanwhile Mrs. Fiorina, with a burn rate of just 33 percent, and Ohio Gov. John Kasich, at 40 percent, appeared to be in solid shape for a long run. So did Mr. Sanders, whose burn rate of 43 percent was exactly half that of Mrs. Clinton.
Kevin Madden, a Republican Party strategist, said the campaigns need to ask themselves whether they are getting a good return for their investments. If Mr. Sanders is spending money on paraphernalia, then he needs to be raking in money either off the sales or expanding his voter file — or both.
“The Obama campaign, they were able to cultivate a much larger universe of small donors in 2008 because every one of those little trinkets they were selling,” said Mr. Madden, who advised Republican Mitt Romney’s presidential campaigns. “They would sell it, but they were also getting those folks into a voter file that they were then tapping into to build a much bigger ground operation across the country. Those folks never left the tent after they went in and purchased something.”
In Mrs. Clinton’s case, he said, her payroll costs are going to fund a sophisticated get-out-the-vote operation in early primary states, so that is also likely a good investment.
She also paid $1.6 million for polling, $631,000 to rent office space and $15,000 for catering at music artist Jay-Z’s 40/40 Club.
Mr. Bush claimed nearly $20,000 for a series of stays at the Biltmore Hotel in Coral Gables, Florida, more than $1 million on charter planes and other airfare, and expenses of $195,807.48 on credit cards.
He, like Mrs. Clinton, has invested heavily in staffing, at about $2.5 million for the quarter. Allie Brandenburger, a Bush spokeswoman, said he has 10 paid staffers in Iowa and two offices — one in West Des Moines and another in Cedar Rapids.
The Bush camp has another 12 paid staffers on the ground in New Hampshire, which Ms. Brandenburger pointed out is “more than any other Republican campaign at this point.”
“Our staff advantage has allowed us to invest in key aspects of voter contact in New Hampshire that other campaigns are just beginning to scratch the surface of,” said Ms. Brandenburger. “As New Hampshire voters hear the Jeb story, we’ve seen significant increases in our volunteer numbers and are confident our voter contact effort is the best in the field.”
Mr. Trump doesn’t show a major investment in personnel but has spent his itemized money on airfare, at $723,426, and about $700,000 more on campaign T-shirts and hats.
Speaking at a rally in Richmond, Virginia, last week, Mr. Trump boasted about his frugal campaign. He had planned to self-fund his campaign but has raked in millions of dollars from unsolicited donors, leaving him to have to dip only slightly into his own money.
“I look at some of these guys, they’ve spent tens of millions of dollars, they’re at 1 percent [in polling],” he said, adding that he is proud of how he is spending.
“I’ll spend as we need to, but it’s great. Think of it — I’ve spent the least of anybody, or just about, and I’m first place,” he said.
• Stephen Dinan contributed to this report.