When Deborah Herring got the chance to talk one-on-one with Sen. Barack Obama in the living room of a north-side home last
summer, she knew he was the man she wanted to be president. So Herring, owner of the Honeysuckle Home store in Broad Ripple,
and her husband opened their wallets like they never had before. They gave Obama $2,208.
By contrast, local businessman P.E. MacAllister cut back his giving to Sen. John McCain to $5,000 compared with the $20,000 he gave President George W. Bush in 2004. That's because Bush came to Indiana multiple times and met personally with MacAllister and other businessmen. McCain has not, MacAllister said.
The two different outlooks by business-minded Hoosiers may, in part, explain why the Republican McCain has been unable to achieve the same Indiana fund-raising edge on his Democratic opponent that Bush did in past elections.
"I'm a little disappointed in the fact that Mr. McCain hasn't spent much time here. He's sort of taking Indiana for granted," said MacAllister, 90, chairman of MacAllister Machinery in Indianapolis. "Bush was in town two or three times. We had a personal meeting with Bush, with 15 to 20 of us."
Bush rang up an Indiana fund-raising advantage of $1.7 million over John Kerry in 2004, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. And his popularity in Indiana allowed him to spend those dollars to help him campaign in other states while easily winning Indiana's electoral votes.
Obama outraised McCain by $360,000 through the end of August, when McCain's decision to take public campaign funds forced him to stop raising funds directly for himself. Obama did not take public funds, and so has continued to raise money.
At the end of September, Obama had raised $2.6 million to McCain's $1.7 million.
Of course, Obama has outraised McCain all over the country, revolutionizing fund raising with daily e-mails to supporters asking for as little as $5.
"What's important to see is there are a lot of small donations," said Lacy Johnson, an Ice Miller attorney who helped organize Obama events in Indiana. "That's what makes the difference."
The Obama campaign claims its average donation is just $86, although the Republican National Committee complained to the Federal Election Commission after media reports highlighted two Obama donors named in records as "Good Will" and "Doodad Pro" who made multiple contributions of less than $200 that in total exceeded the maximum individual donation levels.
Nationwide, Obama has raised $603 million compared with $358 million for McCain. Obama spent far more fighting off Hillary Clinton in a long primary campaign. But the Illinois senator still has enough cash on hand that he's far outspending McCain with television ads in multiple states.
Obama has visited Indiana many more times than McCain, even since the primary and especially as the election has drawn near. Obama gave a speech Oct. 23 on the American Legion Mall in Indianapolis. By contrast, the last time McCain visited Indiana was in July when he held a fund-raiser here.
"I have a sense that Republicans that were giving a lot to Bush have been giving less [to McCain] or have even crossed over to the other side," said Brian Vargus, a political science professor at IUPUI.
Sticking with GOP
Vargus might be right. But looking at the biggest business names in central Indiana, there appear to be no defections from McCain to Obama.
Eli Lilly and Co. CEO John Lechleiter donated to McCain, as did two of his predecessors, Randall Tobias and Richard Wood.
At WellPoint Inc., Chairman Larry Glasscock, CEO Angela Braly and Chief Financial Officer Wayne DeVeydt all gave to McCain. Glasscock's and Braly's spouses also gave to McCain.
Of course, Obama attracted plenty of heavy hitters, too. Emmis Communications Corp. CEO Jeffrey Smulyan gave him $4,600, as did philanthropist Christel DeHaan.
But interestingly, some traditional Democratic supporters shifted to McCain--even though they had given to Obama's primary opponent, Hillary Clinton. Simon Property Group Inc. CEO David Simon gave $2,300 and Cummins Inc. CEO Tim Solso gave $4,600. Neither of them could be reached for comment.
Donors can give up to $2,300 for a candidate to use for the primary and another $2,300 for the general election. Some have been able to give more to a candidate to help cover legal and accounting costs or to pass on to their national party.
Steve Walker, CEO of Indianapolis-based Walker Information, gave McCain the maximum single contribution of $2,300 in July. In 2000 and 2004, he also gave Bush the maximum allowed at the time.
"I usually just give the maximum," he said.
William Salin Sr., chairman of Salin Bancshares Inc., gave McCain $4,600, compared with the $2,000 he gave Bush in 2004.
"He needs it, quite frankly," said Salin, 77, noting that he upped his contribution after Obama changed his earlier promise and declined to accept public campaign funds.
Lesser of two evils
Salin, Walker and MacAllister said they supported McCain because they think he'll handle the economy better, keeping taxes and spending lower.
Salin, a banker, said McCain has been too slow to respond to the recent financial crisis. But he'd still rather have McCain's policies in a recession than Obama's.
"They will not do the things to bring this country out of the recession very quickly," Salin said of Obama and congressional Democrats, who hold a majority in both houses. "They'll raise taxes and that will hurt the economy."
But Herring, the Broad Ripple shop owner, said she's less concerned about whether Obama's tax policies might hurt her business and more focused on his promises to end the Iraq war and improve the nation's international reputation.
"I'm not going to worry about my small business when things are happening like that," said Herring, 53. "I may be a small-business owner, but I'm also an American. If I have to pay a little more, then that's fine with me."
Another Obama supporter, Baker & Daniels bankruptcy attorney Jim Carr, said he thinks Obama will handle both the economy and foreign policy better than McCain.
"He cares particularly about middle-class Americans, he said. I think he's going to help them. I think he's going to be helpful with respect to revival of the economy."