Republican Senate candidate Marco Rubio may bemoan Barack Obama, but not in every area.
The underdog rival to Gov. Charlie Crist is striving to emulate the small-donor fundraising model that helped propel Obama past another money-raising titan, Hillary Rodham Clinton.
A closer look at the Senate candidates' latest campaign finance reports, in fact, shows Crist has relied so heavily on large donors that his financial advantage over Rubio is less enormous than it might appear.
That's because individual donors can give only $2,400 for the Republican primary, and any amount above that is restricted for use in the general election. More than 850 people have contributed more than $2,400 to the Crist Senate campaign — totalling about $2.5 million restricted for the general election. Fewer than 50 of Rubio's more than 11,000 donors gave more than $2,400.
Not that Rubio has much to crow about. As of Sept. 30, Crist still had a 5-to-1 financial advantage — $4.17 million on hand for the primary vs. $802,000 for Rubio, who had about $90,000 restricted for the general election.
"At this stage, a 5-to-1 disadvantage suits me fine, especially since the overwhelming bulk of our donors can keep giving and his can't," said Rubio campaign adviser Pat Shortridge.
Part of what helped Obama beat Clinton in the Democratic presidential primary was a vast pool of small donors who could give again and again before reaching the maximum contribution. Clinton, meanwhile, maxed out more big donors early, leaving her at a disadvantage.
The Crist campaign did not respond to questions about its donors, but the Rubio campaign said its average donation this year has been $119.
Rubio is generating a ton of national publicity since conservative third-party candidate Doug Hoffman knocked liberal Republican Dede Scozzafava out of a congressional special election in upstate New York. Conservative activists and media figures have been casting the Rubio vs. Crist contest as the next big fight.
"You've got a down-the-line Reagan conservative in Marco Rubio," gushed Rush Limbaugh this week, contrasting him to Crist.
To capitalize on the growing attention and grass roots interest, Rubio on Tuesday unveiled a new Web site, www.CharlieAndObama.com, that features a giant picture of Crist embracing Obama in Fort Myers in February in support of the president's stimulus plan.
"Get the picture. Donate now to stand up for conservative principles," the site says, encouraging donations from $10 to $2,400.
It's not only small online donations fueling Rubio's insurgent campaign, however. Like Crist, he has been traveling the country for fundraising receptions. He raised more than $60,000 from New York and $40,000 from Texas,
Crist raised more than $184,000 from New York, $78,000 from Illinois, and nearly $70,000 from Texas.
Adam C. Smith can be reached at email@example.com.