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Obama's small-donor 'myth'

The campaign's base was dominated by those who gave less than $200. But a new study says that's not so.

November 30, 2008|Andrew Malcolm | Malcolm is a Times staff writer.

Everybody knows how President-elect Barack Obama's amazing campaign money machine was dominated by several million regular folks sending in hard-earned amounts under $200, a real sign of his grass-roots support.

Except, it turns out, that's not really true.

In fact, Obama's base of small donors was almost exactly the same percentage as George W. Bush's in 2004 -- Obama had 26% and the soon-to-be-former president 25%.

"The myth is that money from small donors dominated Barack Obama's finances," said Michael Malbin, executive director of the nonpartisan Campaign Finance Institute.

In a recent detailed study that added up the total contributions from the individual donors, the institute discovered that rather than the 50-plus% commonly reported throughout the campaign, only 26% of Obama's contributions through August and only 24% through Oct. 15 came from people whose total donations added up to less than $200.

It comes down to which definition of "small donor" you accept: Someone who gave to the campaign by scraping together $199, period, or someone who donated $199 to the Obama campaign several times, perhaps totaling close to the $4,600 legal limit for the primary and general elections.

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Much mingling to do in Iowa

Hard to believe this much time has passed already since the 2008 presidential election. But here we are only 37 months away from the 2012 Iowa caucuses.

And only 32 months until the Ames straw poll.

And here goes Louisiana Republican Gov. Bobby Jindal speaking at a fundraiser for the Iowa Family Policy Center in West Des Moines.

The 37-year-old Jindal made light of the occasion, of course, joking to some 800 curious listeners that it was way too soon to be making political speeches. "You might want to consider getting involved in some kind of recovery program," he suggested to a receptive audience on his first trip to the Hawkeye State, as noted by MSNBC's political blog First Read.

But, of course, that's exactly what he was doing anyway in the form of speaking about family. "As a parent," said Jindal, knowing his conservative audience had precisely the same feelings, "I'm acutely aware of the overall coarsening of our culture in many ways."

Jindal took the tack that many non-Washington Republicans instinctively know is the right one nowadays, giving the president-elect some time and room to succeed or fail on his own without the constant carping that hurt Republicans on Nov. 4.

"Whether you voted for him or not," Jindal said of Obama, "whether you supported the new leaders of Congress or not -- they're our president, they're our Congress. They need our prayers. They need our support."

Then he proceeded to talk about his chief executive work back home in Louisiana. It was a kind of political introduction, with plenty of mingling with the audience, who may remember he was there come 2011. Jindal will be back. Same for Mike Huckabee. Probably Mitt Romney. Sarah Palin will pack them in sometime down the road.

Not so much because any of them has decided what they're going to do come the next leap year. But because they and their strategists want to be ready just in case.

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Race hangs on Minnesota dolts

Even with Florida 2000 in our memories, maybe you too couldn't understand what's the big deal about ballots still being counted three full weeks after election day.

Thanks to Minnesota Public Radio, we can all at least partly understand the predicament of the poor election judges trying to decipher what in the world many Minnesota voters had in mind -- or if they had one when they voted.

You'd think with millions of votes, a few dozen wouldn't matter much one way or the other.

But it appears these knuckleheads could actually be the deciding factor in determining not only the U.S. Senate race in Minnesota but also whether the Democrats achieve their coveted Republican-proof majority of 60 seats.

Professional comedian Al Franken, the Democrat, and professional politician Norm Coleman, the Republican incumbent, are separated by a very few votes.

The deciding challenged votes could include:

* A ballot with the circle properly filled in but a thumbprint on another candidate's name, possibly interpreted as an identifying imprint that would disqualify the vote.

* A ballot with "No" written by one name and another marked in.

* A ballot with one name marked but a little arrow pointing up to another candidate.

No wonder the Lakers left.

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andrew.malcolm@latimes.com

Read more Top of the Ticket at latimes.com/ticket.

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