GOP rivals in Va. governor’s campaign spar over who has the better edge in donors, dollars

The two leading Republican rivals in next year’s race for Virginia governor can agree on this much: Over the past six months, one of them raised a whole lot more money than the other.

But they have vastly different takes on what those lopsided fundraising totals say about who’s really ahead.

Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling pulled in $962,061 between Jan. 1 and June 30; Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli II raised $538,104. But Cuccinelli had far more small-dollar donors, a widely viewed measure of grass-roots enthusiasm — something of particular importance in a primary battle to be decided by a party convention rather than an election.

Bolling had 414 contributors donating more than $100 and 331 who gave $100 or less, according to campaign finance reports filed by this week’s deadline. Cuccinelli, by contrast, had 439 donors who contributed more than $100 and a whopping 3,191 who kicked in $100 or less, according to the Virginia Public Access Project, a nonpartisan tracker of money in politics.

“The fact that Ken Cuccinelli raised so little during this period is a further indication that he cannot defeat Terry McAuliffe for governor of Virginia,” said Boyd Marcus, a Bolling consultant, referring to the all-but-declared Democratic candidate. “This clearly shows that Bill Bolling is recognized by leaders in communities all across the commonwealth as the best choice for Virginia’s next governor.”

Cuccinelli, who said that 2,017 of his contributors were new and that 1,352 of those donors were Virginians, saw it differently.

“I am very proud of the convincing grass-roots strength that my campaign for Governor is displaying, especially this early in the race,” Cuccinelli said in a written statement. “[T]hese are exactly the type of numbers we need to be putting on the board. We are running in a convention — and that means grassroots strength is the key to victory.”

So which candidate in this highly contentious race has it right? The one claiming momentum with dollars or donors?

“In a sense, they’re both right,” said Mark J. Rozell, professor of public policy at George Mason University. “Bolling has more establishment support right now and has been able to raise much more money, in larger amounts, from a variety of traditional Republican interests. And that certainly showcases their confidence that he’s the better candidate in the general election. But Cuccinelli, no surprise at all, has raised money from more constituents in smaller amounts, showing that he does have some real, substantial grassroots support out there, which could, indeed, translate into a strong showing for him at a party nominating convention.”

Pushed by Cuccinelli backers, the state GOP’s governing board last month scrapped a planned 2013 primary election. Republicans will instead choose their gubernatorial candidate at a convention, a format expected to favor the firebrand attorney general because of the conservative party stalwarts who tend to participate. Bolling, who projects a more moderate image, preferred a primary, which would have been open to all voters and been likely to draw less conservative voters.

Even though he took in far less than Bolling, Cuccinelli was able to transfer $476,938 from his attorney general’s account to his gubernatorial coffers. Bolling ended the period with $1,479,100 in cash on hand, while Cuccinelli had $627,337 in the bank.

Bolling scored two $100,000 donations, one from Gilliam Richard of the coal mining and processing firm Cumberland Resources, the other from McLean Mortgage. He had 29 donations between $10,000 and $25,000, many of them from corporations, including Marriott International and Altria, the parent company of Philip Morris. His smallest donation was for $20.

Cuccinelli’s largest single donation came from Mrs. Kenneth J. Nunnenkamp, the wife of a McLean lawyer, who gave $25,000. He also received eight $10,000 donations, one of them from Koch Industries, the Wichita energy company owned by billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch who are active in Republican politics nationwide.

Cuccinelli’s smallest donation was $8 from James Alan Smyers of Glen Allen. Smyers followed up that March contribution with a second, $100 pledge last month, nudging Smyers into the realm of larger donors.

Laura Vozzella covers Virginia politics for The Washington Post.
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