Democrat Jason Carter's campaign was hoping to stay in the ballpark against Gov. Nathan Deal's donor network. Instead, the Atlanta state senator outpaced the Republican incumbent's fundraising machine in the three months between April and June.
Deal's campaign said Tuesday it raised $1.27 million in the second quarter and has $2.6 million in cash on hand going into the final four or so months ahead of the November election. Carter's camp raised more than $2 million in the same timeframe and has $1.8 million in the bank.
The surprising results will be hard for Deal's camp to spin, one reason they were likely released so late on Tuesday evening. The campaign noted, though, that 92 percent of its donors came from within the state. A Democratic source said about 70 percent of Carter's supporters were in-state. We'll be able to crunch the numbers when we get the full reports.
For Carter, the fundraising numbers prove his network can hold its own - and then some - against the governor's team. With help from his grandfather, former President Jimmy Carter, the Atlanta Democrat has tapped a rich vein of donors who believe in his chances in November, or are at least willing to hedge their bets.
"There is no question that the momentum in this race is firmly on our side,” Matt McGrath, the Carter campaign manager, said in a statement. “Georgia voters are ready for a new direction, and they are enthusiastic about getting behind Jason’s vision for the state’s future."
For Deal, it underscores his challenges against a well-financed campaign. Polls show a tight race between the two, but it seemed a given that he would have an insurmountable financial advantage. Carter may never be able to match Deal blow-for-blow over the long haul, but the latest figures show the two will compete through the summer on a somewhat level playing field.
The governor, though, can rely on outside resources that Carter can only dream of matching. He's spent parts of the last few months raising money for two outside organizations, the Republican Governors Association and the Georgia Victory Fund, which seek to influence the race. Already, the RGA has spent $1.5 million on a pro-Deal ad blitz, and big donors like the Koch brothers are backing the state GOP fund.
Deal spokeswoman Jen Talaber noted that the governor raised "significant amounts" for other entities that were a priority during the second quarter. She also noted that Deal faced a competitive three-way primary while Carter avoided an intraparty fight.
"With the primary, bill review and the trade mission behind us, the campaign is in a strong position heading into the general election," she said.
Still, it's become the norm for powerful incumbents at this stage in the race to build a mighty war chest of their own so they don't have to rely on outside funds. Consider that Deal's predecessor, Sonny Perdue, raised about $2 million between April and June in his 2006 re-election bid - no eye-popping figure - but had $9 million in the bank for the homestretch. That's more than three times Deal's amount.
Deal, for his part, said he was "concerned" about Carter's fundraising figures but was confident in his campaign's direction. He also took a shot at his opponent's boast of attracting 13,000 donors. Said Deal:
"Obviously, any time a political opponent raises a significant amount of money, I am concerned. I saw some of his solicitations for funds asking people to give him $1 so he could increase his number of contributors. A dollar is a dollar. But nevertheless we've done a pretty good job of raising money on our own. And we have every reason to believe we'll continue to be successful."