WASHINGTON — Monsignor Steven Brovey, the rector for the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist in Charleston, gave $120 to U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, sensing the Floridian’s strong Catholic faith would “help him reach out to the poor, to help those that are weak.”
Insurance agent Bobby Brock of McClellanville contributed $500 to U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz in 2015, even though the Texas Republican opposes same-sex marriage, which Brock supports.
And Edwin Shoffner, a longtime mattress salesman in Greenville, divided $600 between two candidates he said would grow the economy: N.J. Gov. Chris Christie and billionaire businessman Donald Trump.
These are just a few of the hundreds of South Carolinians who gave to presidential candidates in 2015.
All told, Palmetto State residents through the end of last year spent at least $3.6 million among 20 White House contenders in both parties, according to the Federal Election Commission.
The FEC won’t update this figure again until Feb. 21, one day after the South Carolina GOP presidential primary. That means in-state donors who made contributions at the start of 2016 won’t know right away whether their money had a direct correlation to the primary results.
But the available data still paints an important picture of where in the state candidates collected money in the early days of the election cycle. The Post and Courier took a look at the numbers for four of the leading Republican contenders – Cruz, Trump, Rubio and Jeb Bush — and here’s what the analysis found.
Trump and Cruz have been the consistent favorites in South Carolina polls, but Rubio was the one who came away from 2015 with the most money in his campaign wallet.
From the point he declared his candidacy on April 13 through Dec. 31, the Florida Republican collected at least $336,845 from South Carolinians.
He took in money from donors living in the Upstate (around $105,155) and the coast (about $97,056). Dave Woodard, a political science professor at Clemson University, said that could be telling.
In addition to having financial popularity in the Upstate and Lowcountry, Rubio also has key endorsements from influential congressional lawmakers in both regions: U.S. Rep. Trey Gowdy from conservative Greenville-Spartanburg and U.S. Sen. Tim Scott from the more moderate Charleston.
“There’s the old history of the state, the Upstate versus Lowcountry rivalry,” Woodard said. “I think Rubio having an Upstate and Lowcountry endorsement is very, very important.”
If that’s true, Rubio’s numbers could further reinforce his image as a party unifier.
Rubio might have taken in more cash than Cruz in South Carolina, but not by much.
Cruz reported receiving at least $328,775 from state voters in 2015, only $8,070 less than Rubio. He also, like Rubio, took in contributions from the Upstate ($120,067) as well as the Lowcountry ($107,728).
Much of his ground game has focused on winning over voters in the evangelical Christian base, and many of his donors in the state reflect the fruits of that outreach.
David Mann, an auctioneer in Greer, said he was originally leaning toward Trump but was disturbed by the businessman’s lack of religious fluency.
“He gets the Bible wrong,” Mann said of Trump. “When he talks, the overwhelming feeling is he almost mocks God. And he just sounds like an empty shell. Almost flippant when he thinks about spiritual things.”
Mann said he preferred Cruz for being a “conservative constitutionalist” who promised to start every day in the White House “on his knees, praying for wisdom and guidance.”
Cruz’s spirituality alone isn’t a draw for everyone, though.
“Our country, the thing that’s made it great, are the values and the principles this country was founded on and they originated, most of them, from Christianity,” Brock, the insurance agent, said. “I don’t go to church anymore. It turns me off. But that doesn’t mean I don’t appreciate the values I think the country needs to be based on. And I think Cruz has got them.”
Trump has made one thing clear throughout his presidential campaign: He doesn’t need the money.
“The political events Donald Trump is having is, people aren’t having to come with their checkbooks,” said former state Rep. Jake Knotts, a Trump supporter. “The money is not the main thing. It’s what the people want, and he’s not shaking them down.”
Of course, that doesn’t mean people aren’t giving him money — and that Trump isn’t gladly taking it. He received $30,615 from South Carolinians in 2015, with his biggest base of support in the Upstate. His weakest showing was in the Lowcountry; at the bottom tip of the state, around Jasper and Beaufort, he received only $451.
Shoffner, the president of Mattress Wholesale LLC in Greenville who gave Trump $300, didn’t mention anything about the candidates’ financial situation when explaining why he chose to donate. He said he was doing his civic duty.
“I feel in giving money to a campaign, I’m putting my money where my mouth is and my opinion is,” he said, adding he would continue to give to Trump and Christie until a GOP nominee emerges.
Of the 16 candidates originally running for the Republican presidential nomination last year, U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham placed 11th in terms of earnings. In his home state of South Carolina, however, Graham got more money than any of his competitors by a long shot.
Before suspending his bid at the end of 2015, Graham collected at least $1.5 million from his fellow South Carolinians. The second-highest earner in the entire state that year was Democratic presidential front-runner Hillary Clinton, who came in under $470,000.
Graham is now hoping Bush will take up the mantle and win the GOP nomination. T.J. Parsell, a Charleston restaurateur, was backing the former Florida governor in June, contributing $2,700 to his campaign.
“We need a president like Jeb with a proven record of executive branch experience and success,” Parsell said recently. “Equally important is a candidate with a vision that appeals to a broad spectrum of the electorate, not just the far right wing conservatives and evangelicals as some of the other Republican candidates do.”
But Bush has a lot of catching up to do in the state money game. Last year, he raised only $184,459.