WASHINGTON -- Despite the credit President Barack Obama gets for helping turn around Michigan's signature auto industry, he trails the man he's likely to face in November -- Michigan-born Mitt Romney -- in campaign fund-raising in the state.
At least for a few more days.
A Free Press analysis of Federal Election Commission records shows that as of the end of February -- the most recent period for which data are available -- Obama had raised about $1.6 million in Michigan.
That's far more than Obama had raised in the state at this point four years ago, but still less than Romney's $2-million total, despite the Obama administration investing billions in taxpayers' money to save General Motors and Chrysler.
That could change Wednesday with the president headed to Dearborn and Denise Ilitch's Bingham Farms home for two high-priced events that could raise as much as $1 million.
But the fact that Romney held the fund-raising lead on March 1 underscores the importance of his long-standing ties to the state and a fund-raising base that includes metro Detroit business leaders such as Dan Gilbert of Quicken Loans, Peter Karmanos of Compuware and Roger Penske of Penske Corp.
A deep organization like the one Romney has built in Michigan in two election cycles, including a hard-fought primary this year, is going to be key if he hopes to win a state that hasn't supported a Republican presidential contender since George Bush in 1988.
"It doesn't matter how much money Mitt Romney raises here or elsewhere, he can't Etch-A-Sketch his call to let Detroit go bankrupt," said Matt McGrath, spokesman for the Obama campaign in Michigan, referring to Romney's opposition to using taxpayer funds to rescue GM and Chrysler in 2008.
"We are confident that voters in Michigan and across the country are responding to Mitt Romney's pro-jobs message and will make Barack Obama a one-term president," said Amanda Henneberg, a Romney spokeswoman.
A battleground state?
It's hard to say whether Michigan will be a battleground in the fall, but a poll released last week by Lansing-based EPIC-MRA showed Obama's lead over Romney in Michigan shrinking to 47%-43%, down from 48%-40% in January. The poll had a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percentage points.
"Money raised in a state certainly doesn't always translate into votes," acknowledged Republican consultant John Truscott. But Romney's money advantage in Michigan -- compared with the campaign cash lead Obama enjoys nationally -- is of note, if only because it could help Romney gauge whether the state is in play in November.
Romney leads Obama in fund-raising in a few other swing states, including Florida and Ohio. He trails the president in others.
Fund-raising may have no direct correlation to votes, but, in Michigan, it may suggest an advantage in the Detroit suburbs, where Romney would need support to win the state.
Michigan doesn't make the top 10 list of states for presidential fund-raising, but the state totals are one way for the campaigns to measure their presence in the state.
The money totals suggest that Romney's campaign already has looked to the suburbs for help. Raising $2 million in the state by the end of February (just less than the $2.1 million he had raised by the same point four years ago), he had a big edge over Obama in many cities, including Bloomfield Hills, Birmingham, the Grosse Pointes, Farmington Hills and more.
Obama's campaign did better in Ann Arbor, Detroit, East Lansing and Northville, among others, and his campaign has raised money in a lot more places in Michigan than Romney has. His reports list contributions from 421 cities, compared with 229 for Romney. The president has more donors, too -- 3,242 to Romney's 1,445 (though some names may be double-counted because of slight differences in the records).
Obama and Romney each have one Michigan city that towers above all others for fund-raising power.
For Obama, it's Ann Arbor, where his campaign has collected $243,603 -- well over $100,000 more than Detroit, which ranks second. University of Michigan employees account for more than one-fourth of the total.
At $450,691, Romney's sweet spot is Bloomfield Hills, where he grew up. Another Oakland County community, Birmingham, ranks second at $188,400.
By occupation, Romney gets more money from homemakers -- $235,000 -- than any other group, while Obama gets the most from retirees at $450,000 and lawyers at $179,000.
But Romney has gotten the bigger checks. Obama's donors, on average, have contributed $489; Romney's, $1,383.
Romney has raised more than $1.1 million from 10 cities in the state. Obama, a little less than $700,000.
"It doesn't surprise me" that Romney leads Obama in Michigan fund-raising, said former Gov. Jim Blanchard, a Democratic supporter of Obama. "Romney worked Michigan really, really hard in 2008 and tried to say, 'I'm the Michigan candidate.' "
Through the intervening years, Blanchard said, Romney kept his Michigan organization in place, and he maintains close ties to the state. His brother Scott, a lawyer, has been active with the campaign. John Rakolta, head of the Detroit construction firm Walbridge, is national finance chairman.
As for Obama, Blanchard said, "when he's been in Michigan, he's been talking issues and autos. ... Financially, he never needed Michigan."
That could be changing. Obama's campaign had raised $157 million to Romney's $74 million by the end of February (though that doesn't count party committee totals or super PACs, which are expected to play a big role in the campaign), but some news media reports have suggested that the president has had a harder time attracting large donors.
'Not as trendy'
Earlier this month, Obama noted, "It's not as trendy to be involved in the Obama campaign as it was back" in 2008 -- a sop to the fact that his fund-raising efforts haven't been as large as they were during the primary season four years ago. Still, he's ahead of his totals from 2008 in some places -- including in Michigan, where he has made three trips (not counting this week's) since Labor Day.
At this week's events, he'll add to his totals with events Wednesday at the Henry Ford in Dearborn -- tickets cost up to $5,000 a person -- and Ilitch's home, where tickets cost up to $40,000 a head. Any money raised above the $5,000 individual limit will go first to the Democratic National Committee, then be split among several key states' party committees. Michigan's is not among them.
Virgie Rollins of Detroit, who chairs the Democratic National Committee's Black Caucus, said she's not worried about Obama raising money in Michigan.
"You're going to find people are so grateful to the president for saving their jobs," she said.
But there remain questions about how much people will want to give, and to what. Ballot initiatives -- such as those labor groups are backing to ensure collective bargaining rights through an amendment to the state constitution -- could drain money from the presidential campaigns.
The individual limit for giving to a candidate's campaign is $2,500 each for the primary and the general elections, though donors can give more ($30,800 a year) to national political parties. There is no limit on what individuals can give to so-called super PACs supporting or opposing (but not directly connected with) a candidate.