In today’s presidential marketplace, candidates seek out the wealthy to fund their PACs prior to entering the race. Successful candidates lock up enough to starve out their rivals; Hillary Clinton has managed to get a near-monopoly in this regard on the Left, which is why it’s difficult to see a serious challenger emerge at this stage. It’s a seller’s market for the Right, though, as the size of the field allows big-scale contributors to be choosy. Politico’s Alex Isenstadt reports that none of the potential big backers has chosen Rand Paul, leaving the campaign frustrated and reliant on hard-sell pitches to small donors:
In a presidential campaign defined by billionaire sugar daddy donors, Rand Paul has a problem: He doesn’t seem to have one.
While his rivals cultivate wealthy backers who will pump millions of dollars into their candidacies, Paul has struggled to find a similar lifeline. It’s led to considerable frustration in his campaign, which, amid rising concerns that it will not be able to compete financially, finds itself leaning heavily on the network of small donors who powered his father’s insurgent White House bids.
It hasn’t been for lack of trying. In recent months, Paul has sought to woo a string of powerful Republican megadonors — from Silicon Valley executives to a Kentucky coal mogul to the billionaire Koch brothers — who, it was believed, would be philosophically aligned with his free-market views. In each case, he met disappointment. …
Paul is compensating by turning to his grass-roots supporters who fueled his national rise, bombarding them with pleas for cash. In recent days, many have highlighted Paul’s filibuster-style stand against the PATRIOT Act — opposition that has made him a hero to libertarians. “The clock is ticking,” read one appeal sent on Tuesday, a few days after his Senate theatrics. “I need to know you stand with me.”
The hope, those close to Paul say, is that his nationwide support from small contributors will make up for his billionaire deficit.
This bolsters the claim from critics that his latest filibuster on the Patriot Act was nothing more than a fundraiser, a desperate attempt for cash. That criticism seems a little silly; Paul has spent years opposing the Patriot Act, even before the Edward Snowden releases that reinvigorated opposition to it. It’s one of the issues on which he has been passionate, and on which he’d be expected to pull out all stops. Whether or not one agrees with Paul on the Patriot Act or on the tactics, his is clearly a sincerely-held position on his part. As far as the fundraising letters go, every candidate — even those with sugar daddies — flood e-mail inboxes with appeals based on anything, everything, and nothing at all. It’s SOP in campaign politics now.
Paul’s failure to attract big-ticket donors has been noted before, especially with the Kochs. As Isenstadt notes, Paul came across as surprisingly unimpressive in February’s private conference with the libertarian-leaning industrialists, and ended up “dead last” in the straw poll conducted there. Some of this had to be expected, as Paul is a first-term Senator — actually, a first-term anything who’s making the second election of his life the presidential nomination. In a cycle that features so many credible Republicans, this lack of connection to a rainmaker can’t have been a surprise, and the small-donor strategy has probably been Plan A all along.
It also suits Paul and the anti-establishment character of his politics, especially for the time being. Not every presidential run is about the here and now anyway. He’s 52 years old, so he’s not exactly the kid on the block, being almost a decade older than Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz, but he’s still young enough to be on the map in the next two or three presidential cycles. Depending on Republican fortunes and the performance of his GOP colleagues in this cycle, Paul can keep afloat with his small donors and expand his credibility for a future run when his own resumé comes in closer proximity to his ambitions. It would certainly have been nice to land one of the big-ticket patrons now, but if Paul can make himself look like a serious contender in this cycle, he’ll get them the next time out.