Carson leads GOP fundraising
Retired neurosurgeon and Detroit native Ben Carson’s quiet, socially conservative message is fueling not only a steady rise in the national polls for the Republican presidential nomination, but also a growing pot of campaign cash.
Carson raised $20.8 million from July through the end of September, doubling his previous quarterly fundraising haul. His campaign is building off an anti-politician sentiment that has propelled him to second in most national polls behind billionaire businessman Donald Trump.
By comparison, Carson’s third-quarter fundraising was more than those of U.S. Sens. Ted Cruz of Texas, Marco Rubio of Florida and Rand Paul of Kentucky combined — $20.4 million.
“The fact that he’s raising money successfully, it’s not just people saying he’s an interesting person, but they’re willing to front him,” said Erika King, professor of political science at Grand Valley State University.
“The polling seems to show that the base of the Republican Party is very interested in hearing the perspective of outsiders, very distrustful of the governing class in the ‘establishment.’ ”
Carson’s nationwide fundraising from July through the end of September was the most among the 16 Republican candidates — a milestone one of Carson’s chief supporters argues will allow him to attract Trump supporters.
“We drafted him (to run for president) because we instinctively knew this would probably happen,” said John Philip Sousa IV, chairman of a super political action committee supporting Carson’s candidacy. “His honesty, his integrity, his absolute lack of political correctness … those are things that are resonating with voters.”
Carson’s third-quarter national fundraising advantage carried over into Michigan, where he collected $351,954 — more than Cruz, Paul and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush raised in the state combined, a Detroit News analysis of campaign finance data finds.
Of all presidential contenders, Carson finished second in Michigan during the third quarter to the $453,842 Democratic frontrunner Hillary Clinton raised.
Small donors keep giving
Carson’s fundraising success has come from a growing network of smaller-dollar donors, some of whom have donated several times since May when he launched his White House campaign in Detroit.
The average itemized contribution to Carson’s campaign from Michigan donors last quarter was $163, while Bush generated $1,015 and Ohio Gov. John Kasich attracted $1,344, Federal Elections Commission data show.
“It is a sign of somewhat broader support, but it’s also a sign that support is less among party elites,” said Matt Grossmann, associate professor of political science at Michigan State University. “To me, it’s your classic Iowa caucus campaign, which is good for him in the beginning.”
In Michigan, Carson received 2,154 individual contributions from donors — although some may have given multiple times — during the third quarter. That’s 549 individual contributions more from Michigan donors than all of the other GOP presidential candidates combined.
The number of itemized contributions to Carson’s campaign from July through September in Michigan also surpasses Democrats Clinton, U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont and former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, who had a combined 1,951 donations.
Carson has built his Michigan network even though he has spent the great bulk of the past five months outside Michigan, particularly in Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and California. He has returned just once to Michigan since his May announcement in Detroit, visiting Jackson and delivering a speech at Spring Arbor University on Sept. 23.
“From my perspective, we need to have somebody who’s not an everyday politician,” said Robert Bink, the owner of a Coca-Cola bottling plant in Escanaba who has made seven separate contributions to Carson’s campaign totaling $1,075. “It’s time to make a change in this country.”
What Carson donors like
Michigan donors say they’ve been inspired to donate to Carson’s campaign because of his upbringing from poverty in Detroit to a groundbreaking pediatric neurosurgeon who became a hero to conservatives for criticizing President Barack Obama’s health care law.
“I don’t have to compromise anything with him,” said Sheryl Leonard, 56, of Houghton Lake, who has given three $100 contributions to Carson’s campaign. “I think he has a chance to win this. The rest is up to us.”
But political experts remain skeptical that Carson can convert his voluminous donor base into a ground game that can win early primaries and compete for independent voters against Clinton, the former secretary of state.
“Money is essential ... but you have to convince people you’re the best candidate and that you can win in a general election,” said Larry Sabato, director of the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics.
Some of Carson’s own supporters are not confident he can win the GOP nomination either.
Dr. Lanny Johnson, a retired orthopedic surgeon in Frankfort, said he likes Carson because they share the same “Judeo-Christian biblical worldview.”
“I’d be shocked if he would be the nominee. The worldview that he’s proposing is not necessarily one that’s popular in American society anymore,” said Johnson, who said he doesn’t usually contribute to political campaigns but gave $1,000 to Carson in March.
Johnson donated another $1,000 to Carson’s campaign last month, FEC records show.
“It’s worth my money to have him be out there and articulating that world view,” Johnson said.
Keith Sikora, a dentist in Alma, is considering Carson among several other candidates including former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal and Trump. A social conservative, Sikora said protecting personal liberties is among his top issues.
“I’m not 100 percent behind (Carson), but I like what I’m hearing so far,” he said. “I like that he’s not spinning things. He seems genuine in what he says. He’s not the showman that Trump is, but I think he’s sincere in his beliefs.”
Sikora said he has donated relatively small amounts to several candidates, including $250 to Carson, “to keep their candidacy going, so I can keep hearing more about them.”
“As things get narrowed down, I will donate more,” he said.