Rita Chesley lives in a Bangor retirement community and, although she’s on a relatively fixed income, she has found enough extra cash to donate more than 20 times to her presidential candidate of choice.
Her donations, which have been small contributions of $25 to $50, began last year when Sen. Barack Obama announced his run for the White House. She continued giving through last month.
“I’ve been very unhappy with the things that have happened over the last few years, and I can see him as a shining light coming at a time when we really need it,” the 76-year-old said recently. “I try to give about once a month.”
Clifton Eames, past president of N.H. Bragg & Sons, ran for state Senate twice in the 1990s as a Republican and has donated a handful of times to Sen. John McCain, mostly $50 gifts.
“I’m a lifelong Republican, and I’ve admired McCain for many years,” the 81-year-old said, adding he also has given money to Sen. Susan Collins’ re-election campaign as well as to other local GOP candidates.
Since the primary season started, Mainers have given three times as much money to Democratic candidates for federal office than Republicans and about four times as much money to Obama than to McCain, according to the latest filings from the Federal Elections Commission.
There is a significant caveat to those numbers, however.
McCain stopped taking private donations shortly after his primary, and Obama did not, so the numbers are not easily comparable. McCain instead is relying on $84 million in public financing for his general election campaign.
Giving to a specific candidate is not the only way to contribute to a campaign, and Mainers also have given to state and national party committees.
The Republican National Committee, for instance, has used money to support McCain’s candidacy. The RNC has raised $251 million this year, giving it a significant financial advantage over the Democratic National Committee, which has raised about $153 million.
In Maine, the state Democratic Party has raised about $2.5 million since January, while the GOP has raised a little more than $800,000.
In general, the Maine numbers mirror what’s going on nationally, according to the latest FEC filings dated Oct. 15.
Of the $3,007,659 donated to presidential campaigns by Maine residents, $2,325,248 or more than 75 percent, has been donated to Democrats, according to the FEC. Of those totals, Obama has received $1,913,184 from Mainers, while McCain has netted $448,119.
In U.S. House and Senate races in Maine, the numbers look a little different. In the Senate contest, Republican Susan Collins has the edge with $7.2 million. Her opponent, U.S. Rep. Tom Allen, has been given $5.6 million in campaign contributions. Collins has generated more than four times as much money from political action committees compared to her counterpart.
In the two House races, Democrats Michael Michaud and Chellie Pingree have received a combined $4.9 million while their respective opponents, John Frary and Charlie Summers, netted about $1.1 million.
Orono residents Arthur and Betty Comstock contributed $250 to Collins this year.
They have supported her since her first run for public office in the 1990s and give when they can, Betty Comstock said.
“What we could give probably wouldn’t help [McCain] all that much, but we feel like it probably will help her,” she said of Collins.
Overall, though, the financial numbers appear to favor Democrats, a trend University of Maine political scientist Mark Brewer called stunning.
“Republicans usually don’t get outraised by Democrats,” he said. “Some donors are going to give anyway, no matter who their party candidate is, but we might be seeing some Republicans holding back. And on the other side, there may be a lot of anti-Bush money.”
Like most areas of the country, Obama has been getting more money from small donors in Maine, while McCain’s benefactors are fewer in number but generally give more.
“The presidential race is unlike anything we’ve ever seen,” said Brewer. “Obama is setting records in just about everything, from total amount to total number of donors.”
Some of the names of Maine donors are instantly recognizable. Most are not.
Tabitha King, a Bangor author and wife of author Stephen King, has donated the maximum to Obama. Carol Epstein, a principal of Epstein Commercial Real Estate in Bangor, also has given $2,300 to the Democratic candidate.
Rep. Josh Tardy, Maine’s House minority leader and co-chairman of McCain’s campaign in Maine, has given the maximum to his candidate.
Fred and Cynthia Smith of Old Town, William Head of Lincoln and Timothy Varney of Bangor also have given the maximum to the Republican.
Ted Pierson, a retired judge who lives in Bucksport, was never able to declare his political leanings while on the bench.
This year, for the first time, he donated to a presidential campaign. He gave the maximum, $2,300, to the Democratic senator from Illinois.
Pierson, 62, who described himself as independent and sometimes apolitical, said he has cast many votes on both sides of the political spectrum, so his donation to Obama represents a particularly strong endorsement.
“I’ve really been encouraged by his willingness to speak of optimism,” he said.
While Obama has shattered many fundraising records during his campaign, both Democrats and Republicans appear to be donating at a time many people have less expendable income.
“It will be interesting to see whether a lot of these small, first-time donors dry up,” Brewer said. “The current trends might be Obama-centric or they might be indicative of something else.”
Maite Jullian of the Boston University Washington News Service contributed to this report.