Fewer Texans open wallets for McCainBig spenders who turned out for Bush are slow to warm up to the GOP flag-bearer
By BENNETT ROTH
Copyright 2008 Houston Chronicle Washington Bureau
May 11, 2008
WASHINGTON - Texas, long known as a hot spot for GOP fundraising, has been slow to warm to John McCain.
Nearly two months after sewing up the Republican presidential nomination with a victory in the Texas primary, the senator from Arizona has yet to corral most of George W. Bush's top donors in the Lone Star State.
He also lags behind the two Democratic contenders in money raised in the state.
McCain, who has just begun to build a national organization, has raised $5.5 million in Texas, compared with $6.8 million by Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton and $6 million by Sen. Barack Obama, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
By contrast, Bush in 2004 raised $23 million in the state, compared with Democrat Sen. John Kerry's $4.7 million.
"If a Republican isn't outraising a Democrat in Texas, where are they going to outraise a Democrat? Vermont?" said Stuart Rothenberg, editor of the Rothenberg Political Report. "The fact that he's having trouble getting campaign cash from reliable Republican donors reflects the fact they don't see him as a reliable Republican."
McCain has tried to demonstrate his national financial outreach by unveiling a list of more than 100 fundraisers, called "trailblazers" and "innovators," who have each raised at least $100,000.
But just eight of those elite fundraisers are Texans, and only four belonged to the team built by the advisers to the incumbent president -- a group that included 297 donors from the Lone Star State.
McCain is trying to change that.
Saturday morning, he met at the Hilton Americas Houston with 100 backers of his former Republican primary rival, Mitt Romney, who were in town for a weekend Romney campaign reunion.
The meeting "was an opportunity for Gov. Romney to introduce Sen. McCain to his national finance team and encourage everyone to get behind the McCain campaign," said Romney spokesman Eric Fehrnstrom.
"It was a meeting with people who could potentially raise millions of dollars for the McCain campaign."
McCain spent about an hour talking to the Romney backers and taking their questions. Among the Texans in attendance were Houston oilman L.E. Simmons, a Romney national finance chair; Dallas businessman George Seay; and McCain campaign chairman Robert Mosbacher Sr., a prominent Houston businessman and former U.S. Commerce secretary, Fehrnstrom said.
"It is incumbent upon the McCain camp to cast a wide tent and bring in disparate finance organizations and consolidate them," said James Lee, a Houston businessman who was Rudy Giuliani's national finance chairman.
Lawrence Finder, a Houston attorney and "trailblazer" who has raised at least $100,000 for McCain, acknowledged the challenges ahead.
"Texas and Bush were synonymous," he said. "I don't know if a lot of people are going to feel the same way about McCain in Texas."
Finder, a former U.S. attorney and Harris County Hospital District board member, said some of Bush's fundraisers are starting to come around.
But he said it has taken time for those who supported other primary candidates to move to the McCain camp.
"It is just human nature, when you are invested in a candidate, and you put your heart and soul into it, and things don't work out," he said.
"You have to let the wounds heal."
Craig McDonald, the director of Texans for Public Justice, an Austin-based advocacy group that has tracked Bush fundraisers, said McCain's sponsorship of campaign-finance reform bills in Congress might have alienated major donors.
"Many in the Bush pioneer network see that as heresy," he said.
The campaign, said Charles Black, a McCain adviser, was coordinating large fundraising solicitations with the Republican National Committee and should soon improve its financial performance.
Still, he said, "We are not dissatisfied with where we are."
Among the finance events on McCain's itinerary is a Houston fundraiser in June, when some of the former Romney money people are expected to pitch in.
McCain has tried to tap into the deep pool of Republican contributors in Texas.
He named Mosbacher, who served in President George H.W. Bush's Cabinet, as general chairman of his campaign and picked former Sen. Phil Gramm and former U.S. Rep. Tom Loeffler, of San Antonio, as general co-chairmen.
Mosbacher and Loeffler are also so-called campaign innovators, people who have raised at least $250,000 for McCain.
McCain's other big fundraisers from Texas include Laredo banker Dennis Nixon, San Antonio developer William Eugene Powell, Fort Worth real estate developer Ben David McDavid, Fort Worth socialite Kit Moncrief and Tyler oilman Gaylord Hughey.
Although he's not listed as a trailblazer or innovator, Austin businessman and former Bush fundraiser James Huffines serves as one of McCain's national finance co-chairmen.
In Houston, the McCain campaign has hired Sue Walden, a veteran political operative, to help with fundraising.
Walden has been paid $109,536 by the campaign since 2007, according to the candidate's financial disclosure forms.
Her husband, Dave Walden, a former lobbyist and aide to Houston Mayor Bob Lanier who now works for Continental Airlines, has also raised money for McCain.
Some Republicans who supported other candidates have recently come on board the McCain campaign.
Tom Hicks, owner of the Texas Rangers and a member of the Giuliani finance team, recently hosted a fundraiser for McCain at his Dallas home.
But Pat Oxford, the managing partner of the Houston law firm of Bracewell & Giuliani, who chaired Giuliani's campaign and raised millions for the former mayor in Texas, is taking a pass on major involvement in the McCain effort.
"I'm keenly interested in getting Senator McCain elected, but I am engaged full-time in Bracewell matters for now," said Oxford.
As Republicans scour Texas for money, Democratic contenders have also capitalized on new-found enthusiasm among their supporters.
Clinton listed 11 Texans who raised $100,000 or more. Obama has five donors who raised $100,000 or more and 14 who raised at least $50,000.
Robert Cavnar, a Houston energy company executive, and his wife, Gracie, are among those who raised at least $50,000 each for Obama.
Cavnar, chief executive of Mission Resources Corp., said that it has been easier to raise money for a Democrat in Texas this year.
"There is a lot of Bush fatigue," he said.