Obama leads in Ky. donations

ralessi@herald-leader.comSeptember 28, 2008 

Although polls show that Democratic candidate Barack Obama would need a political miracle to win the Bluegrass State on Nov. 4, he has collected nearly twice the cash from Kentuckians as Republican rival John McCain.

Obama, since announcing his run for president early in 2007, has scooped up more than $1.4 million from Kentuckians who have wired thousands of donations to his campaign over the Internet and attended several key fund-raising events.

Most recently, about 300 prominent Democratic donors packed a second-floor ballroom Wednesday night at the Marriott Downtown in Louisville for a private fund raiser to hear Obama's running mate, Delaware Sen. Joe Biden. Totals from that event, where a ticket ballroom tickets were $1,000 and dinner for a couple could run $28,000, aren't yet available and aren't included in Obama's $1.4 million total which is as of Aug. 31.

McCain, meanwhile, has officially brought in $777,557 through August. But McCain's Kentucky finance chairwoman said the campaign's $1 million goal has already been met. The pace of giving quickened after McCain headlined a June fund-raiser in Louisville and has kept up after he named Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin as his running mate the campaign, said Cathy Bailey, who organized the June event.

"I think there's a good chance we can get to $1 million and a half," she said.The totals, according to the Federal Election Commission, show McCain's average donation in Kentucky is $297 compared to $165 for Obama. But Obama has attracted more than twice as many donors. Much of that has been unsolicited Internet donations made in $20 to $50 installments.

"I think it means that Obama has more support than people would like to admit in Kentucky ... particularly, I think in the urban areas," said U.S. Rep. Ben Chandler, D-Versailles, who endorsed Obama before Kentucky's May 20 primary.

About 87 percent — or $1.24 million — of Obama's Kentucky donations have come from the state's metro areas — Louisville, Lexington and Northern Kentucky. McCain, in contrast, has collected in $540,000 from those areas, which is 70 percent of his state total.

"Now how that translates into votes, I don't know," Chandler said. "Usually, the person who raises the most money wins, wherever that is. In Obama's case, I think everyone recognizes that vote-wise it's an uphill climb in Kentucky."

Lt. Gov. Daniel Mongiardo said apparent lack of support in rural Kentucky stems from unfamiliarity with Obama and his policies, as well as ignorance and racial discrimination.

"I think it's unfortunate that Kentucky is a state that exhibits discrimination such that we do because through the years we have been discriminated against," Mongiardo said. "We have so many people who will not vote for Barack because of the color of his skin. Not everybody wants to talk about that, but it's there."

In addition, Obama appeared in Kentucky just once this year — at a May rally in Louisville.

"Barack is a new entity," said Mongiardo, a former state senator from Hazard. "And we like to know and feel like we know who we're voting for."

Mongiardo was among those Democrats who attended Biden's fund-raiser last week, which included a private dinner with Biden for nearly 80 top donors who paid as much as $28,500 per couple to the Obama-Biden campaign and Democratic National Committee.

Those donors, who included Mongiardo and his wife Allison, rubbed elbows with Biden. Mongiardo said he urged Biden at that reception to campaign in Kentucky before Nov. 4.

Earlier, Biden gave about 20 minutes worth of remarks to 300 people who paid $1,000 to cram into a standing-room only ballroom and munch on crackers, cheese, vegetables and ranch dip at the Marriott.

"He sort of was apologetic for asking for money, but he said the Republican National Committee had out-raised us 10 to 1 and that's going to give them some power," said Louisville Metro Councilwoman Vicki Aubrey Welch after the event, which was closed to the press.

Indeed, the RNC — which is chaired by Kentuckian Robert "Mike" Duncan, an Inez banker — began September with $94 million compared to the DNC's $17.5 million.

Kentucky helped contribute to the RNC's cash advantage with the June 28 fund-raising event featuring McCain and Kentucky U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell. The Louisville dinner event required a minimum donation of $1,000-per-plate and raked in a combined $2 million split among McCain's campaign, the Kentucky Republican Party and the RNC.

"For the first time ever, the Republican Party of Kentucky was a contributor to a national campaign," said state GOP chairman Steve Robertson. "That represented a big turning point for us."

Overall, Kentuckians have shelled out nearly $18.3 million during the 2008 election cycle to all political causes. Among all states Kentucky ranks 26th for its rate of giving, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

That's roughly around the same amount and rank Kentucky has received over the last four election cycles. But the percentage of Kentucky donations going to Democrats is up sharply to 43 percent compared to 57 percent for Republicans. That reverses a six-year slide for Democrats receiving a low of 31 percent of Kentucky donations in 2006.

SUBHEAD

The Republicans' June fund-raiser was likely the only GOP presidential event that will take place in Kentucky this year, Bailey said.

"We're not going to have Senator McCain or Governor Palin in Kentucky for another fund-raising event," she said.

Bailey said she's still looking to organize Kentucky Republicans to seek out fund-raising events featuring Palin or McCain in nearby swing states. For instance, an event headlined by Palin is in the works for Oct. 10 in southern Ohio.

She said it's unlikely but not impossible that McCain could ultimately collect close to the $2.2 million that President George W. Bush brought in from the Bluegrass state in 2004.

But it's difficult to compare Bush's re-election fund-raising to McCain's efforts, which really only began in earnest in Kentucky less than five months ago, Bailey said.

McCain, in fact, received less than $22,000 from Kentuckians by February even after he appeared poised to win the nomination. He had just $170,000 from the Bluegrass State through April.

"We have to remember that a year ago, we didn't know that John McCain was going to be the candidate. There were so many other names," Bailey said. "So we had a lot of catch-up."

Computer Assisted Reporting Coordinator Linda J. Johnson contributed to this report.

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