Where Candidates Go for Cash: Rural America’s Most Giving Counties
The presidential campaigns drew most of their rural contributions from the very richest rural counties. And donations suggest there are blue ski communities and red ones.
Barack Obama raised more money in rural America than any other candidate. In August, he held a fundraiser in Park City, Utah, normally a Republican stronghold.
Photo: Stephanie Merzel
A Daily Yonder analysis of federal records found that in the second quarter of 2007, Steuben County, New York, contributed more to presidential candidates than any other rural county. Make that candidate, singular. Of the $91,150 given by Steuben County residents in the 2007 presidential race, $82,750 ended up in the coffers of New York Sen. Hillary Clinton.
Clinton collected most of her donations from Steuben (mostly from residents of Corning) on one day.
Clinton’s one-day take from south-central New York State typified how the candidates raised money in rural America. They fund-raised where they could tap networks of supporters and collect donations in batches. Their forays into rural counties were carefully targeted — and short.
Clinton went to Steuben. Former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani found a warm spot in Washington County, Pennsylvania, in the far southwest corner of the state, where he collected nearly $50,000. New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson returned to oil and gas rich Eddy County to pick up $63,000. (Richardson’s top 13 rural counties were all in New Mexico.)
Arizona Sen. John McCain had a pocket of support in Jackson County, Michigan. Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee picked up his largest stash of rural cash from Benton County, Arkansas, home of Wal-Mart. Republican Mitt Romney returned to Utah, where he had headed the 2002 Olympics, to receive $47,500 in Summit County, his most lucrative rural county.
The only candidate to show strong fund-raising in an early primary state was Illinois Sen. Barack Obama, who collected $30,5000 from Concord, New Hampshire. Sen. Obama collected more contributions from rural America in the second quarter than any other candidate.
The top 25 rural counties for each candidate can be found at these links:
If there is any pattern to the giving from rural communities, it is that people in counties with lots of second homes, close to beaches or ski slopes, donate most to presidential campaigns. Rural America’s 347 recreation counties (as designated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture) gave to presidential campaigns at four times the per capita rate of all rural places.
Furthermore, there are red and blue casts to vacation destinations:
Summit County, Utah, is home to red skiers and mountain bikers; some 90% of its $295,000 in contributions this year went to Republicans.
Pitkin County, Colorado, home of hip and crunchy Aspen, is blue; two-thirds of its $127,000 in contributions was donated to Democrats.
Teton County and Jackson Hole, Wyoming, give to Republicans. Key West, Florida (Monroe County) favors Democrats. Eagle County, Colorado, is Democratic; Wasatch County and Heber, Idaho, are Republican.
Taos County, New Mexico, didn’t give a dime to Republicans.
Aspen, Colorado, is a ski community that favored Democrats. (Can you tell the difference between Park City and Aspen?)
Photo: Mark Kramer
A few vacation counties are ecumenical in their giving. Mixed giving company is to be found in Beaufort County (Hilton Head), South Carolina, and Blaine County, Idaho, which split their donations between the parties.
These vacation wonderlands are, of course, among the richest of rural counties. Nearly 30 percent of the households in Summit County, Colorado, reported incomes of over $100,000 a year, according to the Census.
In general, both parties fish out of the same rich ponds when it comes to fundraising, according to a study conducted by University of Maryland political scientist James Gimpel. In 2000, the parties collected nearly half their contributions from zip codes where the median income was in the top ten percent in the country.