9 of the Top 10 Richest Presidential Candidates Have Lost, But Mitt Romney's Fundraising May Change That

Does money alone win Presidential elections? Absolutely not. Likewise, it is important to make the distinction between individual net worth and campaign fundraising. 

There is a reason why Ross Perot (net worth $3.58 billion) did not win the presidency in 1992, and Steve Forbes (net worth $450 million) did not successfully secure the Republican presidential nomination in 1996 or 2000. In fact, with the exception of Bill Clinton, nine of the top ten richest presidential candidates by net worth (Ross Perot, Steve Forbes, Mitt Romney in 2008, Al Gore, John Kerry, Hillary Clinton, Jon Huntsman, Rudy Giuliani, and John Edwards in order of net worth) have all failed to win in previous presidential campaigns, with only four even securing a major party’s nomination (Bill Clinton, Gore, Kerry, and Romney in 2012). Therefore, a candidate’s personal bank account does not win the presidency.

Fundraising, however, is an important indicator of a candidate’s momentum, the excitement behind a campaign, and how well a campaign is functioning. The Obama Campaign in 2008 epitomized this by having arguably the best-run presidential campaign in history. When juxtaposed to the mismanaged McCain campaign, Team Obama shattered previous records by raising roughly $750 million from approximately 4 million donors, which was more money than both candidates generated in the 2004 election combined. This unprecedented success was a result of a number of factors including the emotional appeal of the “hope” and “change” message, an ingenious campaign strategy emphasizing small donations (80% of contributions were $100 or less according to the campaign), and the intangibles of a candidate who was able to capitalize on momentum after Democratic National Convention. As a result, many pegged the President’s reelection campaign to be the first to raise $1 billion

In April, Obama’s campaign seemed to be on its way to meeting these high expectations as it had raised $104 million, or 10 times as much as Romney’s up to that point. In the month of July, however, Romney and the Republicans raised a combined $101 million compared to $75 million by Obama and the Democrats. Not to mention that Obama’s campaign spent more than it is fundraised in July. Romney’s campaign also had $186 million of cash on hand compared to Obama’s $124 million. According to the Romney campaign, this figure does not include the surge of contributions after the selection of Paul Ryan as Romney’s running mate.

This significant boost in contributions to Romney is a relevant indicator of the viability of his campaign. With a 60% disapproval rating for Obama’s “handling of the economy,” and the addition of Ryan to the ticket, Romney clearly has the momentum for the time being and is taking advantage of it. The Obama campaign simply does not have the same excitement as it did in 2008 when Americans were eager to take the country in a new direction and make history by electing a minority candidate. In addition, 2008’s campaign innovations such as Internet fundraising and reliance on small donations are now mainstream and will not be a source of momentum in 2012 for Obama.

According to Forbes, Mitt Romney is worth a comfortable $200 million more than Obama. This difference in net worth is irrelevant, compared to the real $200 million raised by Romney-Ryan in June and July. They will surely provide much more competition than McCain-Palin, as the ticket is taking a page out of the Obama ‘08 playbook and circumventing the established matching funds system. Obama is also losing the fundraising battle on Wall Street, a key contributor to the Obama campaign in 2008, with Romney and Republican candidates outraising their Democrat counterparts by $20 million among employees of financial services companies. 

Fundraising will not determine the winner of the election, however it shows that this contest will be much closer than 2008. President Obama has to be worried about the state of his reelection campaign because he cannot expect to outraise Romney by $200 million in the two months after the convention as he did McCain. He also cannot rely on advertisement spending in swing states such as Florida, North Carolina, New Hampshire, and Virginia (which outpaced the McCain Campaign by as much as 4 to 1) to bring people to the polls as in 2008. With the inclusion of Super PAC's in this election cycle, Obama’s 2008 blueprint for victory is proving to be an aberration in American electoral history.

Mitt Romney’s net worth is a hefty sum, but the difference between his and President Obama’s fundraising totals shows that 2012 will not be the landslide of 2008.