The presidential candidate who has collected the most individual donations from Hamilton County this year is the president himself.
"I'm not going to say I've liked the way he's done everything, but I'm a Democrat," said Nancy Phillips, a Hixson retiree who donated $300 to the president. "I can't imagine voting for any of the Republican candidates."
But the collective Republican field has outraised President Barack Obama $37,723 to $23,929 this year in the county, records show.
Of 10 Republican candidates, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney collected the most local money. He reported $16,745 between Jan. 1 and Sept. 30, the last day for which fundraising information is available.
"He's a conservative -- he's going to carry that through once he's elected," said Emerson Russell, a Chattanooga businessman who gave $2,500 to Romney. "And if they had anything dirty on him, they would have already brought it out."
U.S. Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas ($7,328); businessman Herman Cain ($5,350); former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman ($5,000); and U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota ($2,000) round out Hamilton County's Republican top five.
The GOP field together outshone the president despite a paltry showing from Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who reported no Hamilton County donations. Even former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich and former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum reported fundraising here.
Candidates must identify individuals who give them more than $200 in an election cycle, meaning Perry could have collected small donations without reporting them. Perry announced his candidacy on Aug. 13, giving the campaign six weeks to collect donations before submitting fundraising information to the federal government.
Perry's poor Hamilton County showing contrasts with his statewide fundraising abilities. So far he has raised $347,176 in Tennessee, second only to Romney, who reported $386,330. The president takes Tennessee's bronze with $270,139, records show.
Obama has eclipsed the amount he raised to this point in 2007, when the senator from Illinois reported $15,063 from Hamilton County. But only four of 19 early donors from 2007 have given to the Obama re-election campaign to this point.
"While it is too early to tell, it may show some discouragement on the part of major Democratic contributors," said Richard Wilson, a political science professor at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga.
Because Obama had to win a primary last time around, liberals "don't have quite the same motive" to contribute this early, Wilson said. But a GOP nominee "with enough negatives" could inspire a local windfall for Obama, he said.
The overwhelming majority of Hamilton County donations came from Chattanooga where, after Obama and Romney, Huntsman received the third-greatest amount of money -- $5,000 split evenly between one married couple. Residents from some municipalities, Soddy-Daisy and Red Bank among them, didn't donate at all.
East Ridge, on the other hand, hosts Hamilton County's most prolific contributor. In nine installments, ceramics engineer Rich Beecher donated $2,499 -- a dollar below the maximum -- to Paul. After Beecher inadvertently donated $76 over the limit, the Paul campaign telephoned him.
"They asked if I wanted it back or if I wished to have it donated by my wife, and I chose the latter," Beecher said. "He supports a strong military and national defense ... but not going around and attacking every country on this earth."
Like Perry, Tim Pawlenty, the former governor of Minnesota who dropped out of the race in August, did not report any donations from Hamilton County. Neither did Gary Johnson, the former governor of New Mexico who wants to decriminalize marijuana.
Tennessee hosts a Republican presidential primary on March 6. State GOP Chairman Chris Devaney said that Volunteer State voters will play a big role in determining the Republican nominee because the primary is fairly early in the year.
Tennessee has voted for the Republican nominee in the last three general elections. The state GOP will not endorse in the primary but will support the eventual nominee, Devaney said.
"Tennessee will be a strong part of the equation in defeating President Obama," he added.
Chris Carroll covers federal politics for the Times Free Press. A Chattanooga native, he went to Red Bank High School and graduated with honors from East Tennessee State University. Chris investigated violent crime, municipal government and hospitals before taking the political beat. For tornado coverage, he and Pam Sohn won a first-place Tennessee Associated Press Managing Editors deadline reporting award. In 2010, Chris won the Golden Press Card Award of Merit and another deadline reporting ...
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