In the 2016 presidential race, Scott Walker has a couple advantages based on his electoral experiences alone: His back-to-back election victories after changing the state’s public-union rules drew attention and support from grassroots conservatives across the country, and to help win those races, he was all over the country raising millions of dollars from big national Republican donors. No other Republican contender has fought a national fight like that. It’s hard to measure grassroots cred, but just how dramatic is Walker’s first-contact advantage with big donors?
Pretty dramatic, it turns out: He’s gotten donations from 48 percent of the most generous 250 Republican donors in America, an analysis by the New York Times’ Upshot says, much more than any of his competitors:
As the Times explains, even in a world of super PACs, where huge amounts can be spent without going through a campaign, there are a number of reasons why relationships with lots of big donors matter. Walker has a jumpstart on other candidates by this metric, one he can build on if he shows them he can handle the national stage. Florida senator Marco Rubio is the other standout — partly because he’s a popular national figure, but maybe also because of his history of pushing comprehensive immigration reform, an issue popular with big donors (though one he’s softened on).
A third candidate, Jeb Bush, may easily outdo the entire field in terms of relationships with top donors; he just doesn’t perform well on this metric, as the Times notes, because he hasn’t raised money for years. Exactly these three — Rubio, Walker, and Jeb — are considered by many to be the top tier of candidates.
Another exception the Times doesn’t mention in terms of national relationships: Chris Christie had a very successful tour as chairman of the Republican Governor’s Association over the past few years, raising over $100 million, surely from some of these donors (although the RGA also leans heavily on corporate support).