The latest campaign disclosure reports filed by the candidates for governor don’t leave any doubts about it: former Gov. Roy Barnes and Insurance Commissioner John Oxendine have pulled out to big leads over their primary opponents.
Barnes, the Democratic frontrunner, piled up more money than any other candidate in either primary, reporting more than $2.7 million in contributions during the last six months of 2009.
Oxendine, who’s been running ahead in the early polls among Republican voters, raised $1.5 million for the period ending Dec. 31, although that total includes a $250,000 loan from Brand Banking Co. in Lawrenceville.
The most important statistic at this point is how much money a candidate still has in the bank and available to spend. At the first of the year, Barnes and Oxendine both had a little more than $2.2 million cash on hand. That’s a lot more than anybody else could show.
Oxendine contended that the latest reports show the governor’s race is narrowing down to him and Barnes, who was governor from 1999 to 2003.
"Definitely, when you look at the money, the individual polls, the name recognition, I think it will be between the two of us," Oxendine said. "With all of these factors, I’ll be the strongest candidate to run against Roy."
It’s too early to tell if Oxendine’s prediction is accurate, of course. Even with the advantages of money, it’s still possible for a campaign to go into the ditch.
Even so, there was a severe dropoff in dollars from Barnes and Oxendine to the other candidates in the respective primaries, with indications that some of the contenders are already starting to feel a financial pinch.
On the Republican side, former state Sen. Eric Johnson of Savannah reported $680,848 in contributions over the past six months, which is less than half Oxendine’s total. He still had a respectable $1.3 million in his campaign bank account, however.
U.S. Rep. Nathan Deal of Gainesville and former secretary of state Karen Handel were not in such good shape.
Deal raised $608,438 during the last six months of 2009, but that was less than half what he was able to bring in during the first six months. He is also burning through his campaign funds at a fast rate, spending more than he raised during the latest six-month period: $816,830. That left Deal with a cash balance of $940,275.
"I’m ready for the primary campaign and after that, we will turn our sights on Mr. Barnes or anyone else President Obama and the Democrat party should nominate," Deal said.
Handel continues to be the weakest fundraiser of the four leading candidates in the GOP primary, receiving only $515,794 in contributions during the last six months. She spent $400,810 during that same period, which left her campaign with only $439,998 in the bank.
Handel does have one advantage over Oxendine: Because she recently quit as secretary of state, she can legally solicit campaign funds while the General Assembly is in session.
Oxendine cannot take contributions for the next three months because he’s an elected statewide official, but he does have the money he borrowed from the bank to keep paying campaign bills during the legislative session.
On the Democratic side, Barnes raised more than twice as much money during the last six months as his three challengers combined. Attorney General Thurbert Baker brought in $665,642 and reported $874,564 cash on hand. House Minority Leader DuBose Porter, D-Dublin, raised $141,687 and had $303,807 in his campaign account.
"There are two types of campaigns," Porter said. "One is a big money campaign where the candidate sits in a room and dials for dollars. The second is a grassroots campaign where the candidate gets out and creates a dialogue with the people."
Retired adjutant general David Poythress reported $202,758 in contributions during the past six months, but that total includes a $50,000 loan he made to his campaign. He had cash on hand of $264,353.
That’s the money situation for now. We’ll see how those dollars translate into votes.
Tom Crawford is the editor of The Georgia Report, www.gareport.com. His column appears Wednesdays and on gainesvilletimes.com.