Gov. Nikki Haley and Vincent Sheheen have received equal support from donors in York, Chester and Lancaster counties.
The latest campaign finance reports show that Haley, a Republican seeking re-election this year, and Sheheen, a Democratic state senator from Camden, have received about $62,000 in donations from the three counties. In York County, Haley received more than $58,000 in contributions last year compared to Sheheen’s $34,000. But in Lancaster County, Sheheen led $25,000 to $2,000.
Overall, Haley reported having $3.7 million on hand at the end of 2013 while Sheheen raised $1.4 million since announcing his campaign in April.
Local donations ranged from one-time contributions of $5 to recurring amounts of $1,000 or more throughout the year.
“We’re very comfortable with where our campaign is,” said Andrew Whalen, Sheheen campaign manager. Whalen described campaign efforts as “comprehensive.”
“We’re overwhelmed by the support of so many in York, Chester and Lancaster counties,” said Rob Godfrey, Haley campaign manager. He added that the “governor looks forward to visiting the area frequently over the course of the campaign.”
‘Whipping out the checkbooks’
A look at 2013 funds show that retirees made up the bulk of local donors for both candidates. Scott Huffmon, political science professor at Winthrop University, said the older demographic tends to be among the most politically active with disposable income.
While small one-time donations make good “talking points” for both candidates who can lay claims to equalizing “grassroots campaigns,” Huffmon said it’s recurring or larger corporate donors that often play a more crucial role.
“They care far more about the large donations,” Huffmon said about the campaigns. “You don’t get the millions you need for a campaign off $5 donations.”
He added that donors of any amount are most likely to cast votes. “We are talking about a very select group of people who have already demonstrated some passion by whipping out the checkbooks,” he said.
Douglas Barfield, 85, said he has been a longtime supporter of Sheheen and makes it a point to send checks periodically throughout the year. The retired school administrator from Lancaster donated a total of $1,200 in 2013 to Sheheen’s campaign.
“I was hoping Vincent would have been our governor now, but he didn’t make it,” Barfield said of Sheheen, who ran against Haley in the 2010 general election. “I hope this time he will make it.”
Barfield said Sheheen’s experience and early stance on ethics and education reform have him sold on the Democrat.
Allen King, 60, of York has been a longtime Haley supporter, backing her in the 2010 election. King, who runs a water fountain maintenance business, considers himself an independent who is fiscally conservative and “anti-federal government.”
King donated $175 in increments of $25 checks throughout 2013. He said Haley’s upbringing as a child of Indian immigrants who started a business appealed to his sense of entrepreneurship.
“They’re capitalists,” he said of Haley’s family. King also said Haley’s stance on abortion and state sovereignty were in line with his feelings.
Politicians and businesses among top donors
Politicians representing York County donated to the governor’s campaign.
State House Rep. Ralph Norman contributed $2,500 to Haley in October and State Sen. Wes Hayes donated $200 the same month.
Norman, a Rock Hill Republican who represents District 48, entered the House in 2005 – the same year as Haley. “I fully supported her then, I fully support her now,” he said, adding that he thinks “she will win by a large margin.”
Elliott Close, a real estate developer, donated $2,000 to the Sheheen campaign last year. “He’s aligned with how I think we should be moving forward,” Close said of the senator, whom he described as a “good friend.”
Other members of his family, including Anne Springs Close, donated $2,000 to Sheheen as well.
Physicians Choice Laboratory Services, which relocated to Rock Hill from Charlotte this past year, added $1,000 to Haley’s campaign in October.
The “jobs governor” also took in $3,500 in donations from Peoples First Insurance in Rock Hill and Fort Mill marketing firm Red Ventures. Ric Elias, CEO of Red Ventures, matched his company’s donation.
Textile company Springs Creative, which is based in Rock Hill’s textile corridor, donated $3,328.33 to the Republican incumbent’s campaign.
Sheheen’s campaign also saw similar support from local businesses in York County including separate $2,000 donations from Rock Hill Coca-Cola Bottling Co. and Comporium Communications.
While political science research shows that challengers must raise more money than their incumbents to gain name recognition, Huffmon said statewide elections with old faces are often aimed more at churning out those who voted for them in the first place.
“A lot of times the money spent is not at converting new voters, it’s at firing up the base,” said Huffmon.
Jie Jenny Zou • 803-329-4062