If Hoosiers could select the next U.S. president, Rudy Giuliani would thump Mitt Romney in the primary, then go on to defeat John Edwards in a general election landslide.
At least that's what Indiana fund-raising indicates so far.
Campaign finance records through the first quarter of 2007 show the former New York mayor has raised $176,950 here. That's more than twice as much as one-time Massachusetts governor Romney, his closest Republican rival. Ditto former U.S. senator Edwards, the Democrat with the highest Indiana total to date.
"Right now, the front-runners are being created," said Obsidian Enterprises CEO Tim Durham, who is leading Giuliani's Indiana fund-raising efforts along with Marion County Prosecutor Carl Brizzi. "You've got to start as early as you can."
Durham is one of the dozens of prominent local executives whom candidates have approached for financial support. In all, declared campaigns for the 2008 presidential cycle have raised just under half a million dollars in Indiana, with two-thirds coming from Indianapolis. Each individual contributor could give no more than $2,300, the limit under federal election law.
Candidates who visited in person and organized volunteers here, like Giuliani and Edwards, fared best. Others, like Democratic senators Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, are performing well in other states, but haven't yet named Indiana campaign chairmen.
Giuliani got off to the fastest start in Indiana thanks to an early March visit, which led to dozens of four-figure contributions from heavyweight local executives–including Finish Line Inc.'s Alan Cohen, Haverstick Consulting's Steve Hilbert, Klipsch Group's Fred Klipsch, Brightpoint Inc.'s Bob Laikin, Clarian Health Partners' Dan Evans, Oxford Financial Group's Jeffrey Thomasson and IBJ Media Corp.'s Mickey Maurer.
Their support isn't necessarily set in stone.
"Of course, not everybody's in the race yet, probably," said William Salin, chairman of Salin Bank and Trust and a Giuliani contributor. "I don't know that I've necessarily settled on one candidate. Until everybody's in the field, you can't say for sure."
That's true even across party lines. Campaign finance records show that Emmis Communications Corp. Chairman Jeff Smulyan, a longtime supporter of Democrats, has contributed $2,300 to Clinton, Edwards and Giuliani.
Clinton has only a handful of notable Indiana contributors on file so far, including Cummins Inc. President Joe Loughrey and members of the Simon family. But the former first lady's totals are sure to rise once contributions from the year's second quarter are reported. She visited Carmel for a fund-raiser May 6. Bren Simon, wife of Simon Property Group Inc. Co-Chairman Melvin Simon, hosted the event at her estate. Several hundred people attended.
Visits are the key to fund-raising success. Indiana Legislative Insight Publisher Ed Feigenbaum said donors expect "face time" in exchange for their contributions.
"Unlike electoral votes, a dollar from Indiana is worth the same amount as a dollar from New York or California," he said.
Romney's April visit helped him collect $83,375 in Indiana from a list of contributors that includes HHGregg CEO Jerry Throgmartin. Edwards came in March and raised $83,300 from a list of donors that Feigenbaum said "looks like a Bayh-O'Bannon reunion."
Former Indiana Democratic Party chairs Robin Winston and Ann Delaney lead Edwards' campaign here, along with state Rep. Russ Stillwell, D-Booneville. Barnes and Thornburg LLP partner Bill Moreau Jr., formerly Bayh's chief of staff, is also an Edwards supporter.
Another Edwards contributor is Wilson Kehoe & Winingham partner Bruce Kehoe. Kehoe, who volunteered for Edwards' 2004 presidential campaign, said the candidate was able to establish real connections with the people who attended his fund-raiser at Ruth's Chris Steakhouse downtown.
"It wasn't just glad-handing folks, taking checks and getting a photograph taken," Kehoe said. "We had real questions and answers on real issues."
Establishing rapport isn't easy in a brief visit. But it's a skill successful candidates have to hone. Their time is limited, and even though presidential primaries are still more than half a year away, the clock is ticking.
While the half-million dollars candidates have raised in Indiana is substantial, it pales in comparison to what they've collected in more populated states where they're spending more time. California has been the source of $20.7 million in contributions so far for presidential candidates, and New York isn't far behind, at $20 million. Indiana's neighbor Illinois has been the biggest player in the Midwest, providing $6.2 million.
Nationally, declared presidential candidates already have raised $153.2 million–and political observers expect that the Democratic and Republican candidates who emerge from the primary process each will have to raise north of $100 million more for the general election.
Because of its relative dearth of wealthy potential donors, Feigenbaum said, Indiana can expect to see just a handful more appearances by major candidates in the months to come. And even when they visit, candidates won't stay long.
"In the scheme of presidential nominating processes, Indiana is not a big fish in the pond," he said.
Still, contributions today can pay dividends later. Feigenbaum said donors don't usually expect a direct quid pro quo in return. Most aren't looking for influence over specific issues or cabinet appointments.
Instead, they just want to ensure their seats at the table.
"When you get to a certain station in life financially, you're expected to participate in the process," Feigenbaum said. "It's everything from getting good tickets at the inauguration to being able to pick up the phone and call a presidential appointee or staffer and get your feelings known. [It's about] getting established as a player on a national basis."
Clarian President Evans isn't waiting to see who wins to begin sharing his views. In addition to contributing to Guiliani, he's considering donating to Romney's campaign. He's already called leadership of both campaigns to offer suggestions for reform of the U.S. health care system.
He said the ideas are based on his observations and on the governing style he admires of Gov. Mitch Daniels and Mayor Bart Peterson. He said candidates need Hoosiers' ideas even more than they need their money.
Romney's volunteers have already called Evans back. Giuliani's haven't.
"They can't possibly pay attention to everybody who writes a check," Evans said. "So if you want [them to hear your views], you have to share your views. You can't just carp to your next-door neighbor or friends."