Cruz, Clinton lead Georgia’s 2016 money race

Dana Haza did a happy dance Monday night on St. Simons Island as she watched U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz win the Republican caucus in Iowa. In fact, she said she was still dancing Tuesday morning.

“We were screaming,” said Haza, one of nearly 1,000 Georgians who gave money to the Texas senator in the last three months of 2015. “It was bigger than the Super Bowl to us.”

Cruz, who scored a narrow victory Monday in Iowa, won big in the money race in Georgia for the fourth quarter of last year, outraising all other candidates, according to an Atlanta Journal-Constitution analysis of recently released Federal Election Commission data.

The Iowa caucuses, of course, are the first actual votes of the presidential primary campaign. Cruz’s win over Donald Trump gives him momentum headed into the New Hampshire primary next week, and just around the corner is the March 1 SEC primary, when Georgia and 14 other states hold their contests.

Money follows momentum, it appears. Cruz didn’t raise $50,000 in Georgia in October, but he blew past $150,000 in both November and December as he began to challenge Trump for the top spot in the polls.

The opposite can also be true. Ben Carson, the retired neurosurgeon who was near the top of the polls in the fall, raised more than $130,000 in both October and November, but only $56,000 in December as his poll numbers cratered. Still, Carson trailed Cruz here by just $20,000 in the fourth quarter.

“What happens in this election, it’s our wallet, it’s our freedom, it’s every aspect of our life,” said Haza, a development director for a ministry in Brunswick.

Speaking of wallets, Haza doesn’t just support Cruz with words. Like many of his supporters in Georgia, she made more than one contribution to the Texan’s campaign in the fourth quarter of 2015. Her contributions of $2,500 and $200 in December were among more than 2,600 contributions Cruz received from Georgians over the quarter.

Cruz raised more than $360,000 in Georgia from October through December, more than any other candidate. It was the first quarter that former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush didn’t lead the Republican money race here.

Among other Republicans, Florida U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio raised more than $260,000, Bush fell to barely $100,000 while businesswoman Carly Fiorina, Kentucky U.S. Sen. Rand Paul, Ohio Gov. John Kasich, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and former Pennsylvania U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum were far behind.

Trump, a billionaire businessman who is largely self-financing his campaign, raised just $14,000 in Georgia over the period. More than $1,000 of that came from Christo Makrides, the chief financial officer of the Buckhead Life Restaurant Group.

“He is all about the tough decisions, he does not avoid confronting people or special groups who need to be confronted,” Makrides said. “He will call the difficult choices, which means that some people will get angry for his actions, opinions and decisions.”

Chad Paton, a University of Georgia professor of foods and nutrition, has given $250 to Cruz. A transplanted Texan, Paton witnessed Cruz’s rise to power there and liked what he saw.

“I was really impressed with his stance on the issues,” Paton said. “How he spoke, where he’s coming from. He seems to be a principled constitutionalist. He stands on those principles and doesn’t waver.”

Those supporting Rubio, who finished a strong third in Iowa on Monday, are also confident their candidate has time to vault into the lead.

“Marco is a next-generation conservative who can unite Republicans and inspire the nation,” said state Rep. Trey Kelley, R-Cedartown. Kelley gave Rubio $500 in December. “Marco’s understanding of both foreign and domestic policy is exactly what we need to bring our nation into a New American Century.”

On the Democratic side, it was another quarter and another dominant fundraising performance by former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Clinton raised nearly $270,000 in the fourth quarter, giving her more than $1.1 million raised in Georgia for the campaign, easily the most by any candidate of either party.

Her primary challenger for the nomination, Vermont U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, raised $124,000 from October through December and maintained his pattern of nearly doubling his take from each previous quarter. In the second quarter of 2015, he raised $36,000, which increased to $68,000 in the third quarter.

And while Clinton raised twice as much as Sanders, the senator actually had more individual donors who gave an average of $59, compared with $167 for Clinton.

Sanders’ supporters celebrated Monday night’s results in Iowa, which saw Sanders nearly topple Clinton. Russell Andrade, an Atlanta-based opera singer, was among them.

“Last night was fantastic for many reasons,” he said. “You’re talking about a socialist Jew running for president. He’s the oldest candidate running. He has no super PAC money. He’s got almost no fair media coverage when there is any.

“And he ends up tying with a woman who has all the name recognition, has millions and millions of dollars in super PAC money and has a very popular former president campaigning for her. When you put it in that light, you’ll come to the same conclusion: He did very, very well.”

Andrade, who has given more than $200 to Sanders, said it was the senator’s 2010 filibuster against a tax-cut package supported by President Barack Obama and congressional Republicans that first made him take notice.

“Prior to that, I’d never heard of him,” Andrade said. “For the first time, I heard an American politician talking about issues that concern me. When I found out he was in the race (for president) I was ecstatic.”

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