Money, voters take different paths

The most popular Democratic presidential hopeful in Georgia isn't the best fund raiser.

And the most popular Republican isn't even raising money because he isn't officially in the race.

Those are the results of two key barometers of the 2008 presidential contest in Georgia released last week: a poll by Atlanta-based Insider Advantage and a breakdown of the latest fundraising totals the candidates filed with the Federal Election Commission.

Among Democrats, Illinois Sen. Barack Obama had raised the most money in the Peach State through the second quarter, $745,045, according to figures posted online by the Center for Responsive Politics.

But New York Sen. Hillary Clinton was leading Obama in the popularity contest, 35 percent to 27 percent, according to a survey of 800 likely presidential primary voters in Georgia, half Republicans and half Democrats. The Insider Advantage poll, conducted June 12-14 with a margin of error plus or minus 5 percent, was released last Monday.

For the Republicans, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney was the leading fund raiser, bringing in $757,708 from Georgia contributors through the end of June.

But Romney was polling a distant fourth behind former Tennessee Sen. Fred Thompson, not yet an official candidate, ex-New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani and Arizona Sen. John McCain.

Thompson was flying high at 36 percent in the Insider Advantage survey, to 22 percent for Giuliani, 10 percent for McCain and just 9 percent for Romney.

Having different leaders in the battles for votes and bucks is no surprise, particularly at this early stage, said Charles Bullock, a political science professor at the University of Georgia.

"The polling picks up the average voters," he said. "Those people who give money tend to be more politically involved and more interested."

People who contribute to political campaigns also frequently hail from the business community. Thus, it's also no surprise that Romney - who has spent most of his professional life as a highly successful executive - is attracting more than his share of donations from Georgians.

But Bullock said he didn't expect the large number of Georgia political leaders who have signed on with Romney.

When Romney showed up in May at the state Republican convention, he had at his side House Speaker Pro Tempore Mark Burkhalter, R-Alpharetta.

A half dozen more GOP House members endorsed Romney just last Friday, including Gwinnett County Reps. Brooks Coleman of Duluth and David Casas of Lilburn.

"I thought it would be hard for Romney to get much traction here," Bullock said.

But Romney's popularity among Republican contributors and politicians in Georgia isn't trickling down to rank-and-file voters.

He still lacks the name recognition of McCain, a longtime fixture on the national political scene, and Thompson, who stars as a no-nonsense prosecutor on the popular TV series "Law and Order."

Plus, Romney is Mormon, a difficult proposition in Georgia and other southern states dominated by evangelical Protestants.

Bullock said Thompson, on the other hand, seems better suited to Southern voters as the conservative alternative to Giuliani and McCain, two candidates whose moderate views on social issues bother some conservative Republicans.

"There may be some question of whether Thompson has always held some of these conservative beliefs," said Bullock, referring particularly to criticism from some religious conservatives that he is a recent convert to the pro-life movement. "(But) the other leading Republicans have only recently changed their stands to move to the right."

The Democratic race in Georgia is harder to figure.

Clinton has been running ahead in the polls consistently and had a much better fundraising second quarter.

Still, the $396,185 she has raised from Georgia contributors substantially trails both Obama and former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards.

Bullock said the "Stop Hillary" movement may be helping to pump money into Obama's campaign. The former first lady is saddled with the highest negative ratings of all the Democratic candidates among the general public.

"One way to keep her from becoming president is to head her off at the Democratic primary," Bullock said.

Obama polls strongest among black voters, which will help him in Georgia and other southern states where blacks make up a substantial segment of Democratic primary voters.

On the other hand, the Insider Advantage poll found that Clinton's support among women doubled Obama's. Women, too, are a huge factor in Democratic primaries.

Bullock said there may be a certain inevitability factor among Georgia voters working for Clinton now that she is widely regarded as front-runner for a Democratic Party that is favored to capture the White House next year.

"They may be aligning behind someone they think can win nationwide," he said.