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Western New York donors move toward Rubio, Clinton

Republican donors in Western New York abandoned onetime presidential front-runner Jeb Bush late last year and opened their wallets for the campaign of Florida Sen. Marco Rubio.

Meantime, local Democrats overwhelmingly wrote checks for the Hillary Clinton campaign, as the candidacy of her rival for the party’s presidential nomination, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, took root more slowly in Western New York than it did in much of the rest of the country.

Those are the clearest findings in the latest round of data released by the Federal Election Commission on campaign fundraising in the presidential race, which traces campaign donations through Dec. 31.

Rubio – a onetime protege of Bush, a former governor of Florida – raised $193,757 in Western New York, according to a Buffalo News analysis of campaign donations from 75 Western New York ZIP codes. In contrast, Bush raised $153,950.

And Rubio built most of that lead in the fourth quarter of 2015, when he raised $32,882 to a mere $2,900 for Bush. Throughout the year, other GOP candidates lagged far behind the two Floridians in local fundraising.

On the Democratic side, Clinton – a former first lady, New York senator and secretary of state – pulled in $367,717, thanks largely to the most successful political fundraiser in Buffalo history in November. Sanders, a Democratic socialist who is waging a strong grass-roots campaign, raised only $46,267 locally.

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Interactive database: How much presidential candidates raised in WNY by ZIP code

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Anthony Gioia, a longtime Republican fundraiser who is backing Rubio, said that much of Rubio’s cash burst came in the wake of a fundraiser the senator attended in August.

But the numbers show that there is more to Rubio’s fundraising than that. Of the 81 donations Rubio got from Western New York in the fourth quarter of last year, only 17 were for $1,000 or more – which was the price of admission at his August fundraiser in Snyder. The rest were smaller donations, including one of just $7.

Gioia said the data shows that Rubio, a charismatic candidate who appeared to be on the upswing until a widely panned, redundantly repetitive debate performance last Saturday, is resonating with rank-and-file Republicans locally.

“Marco is perceived to be not just the future of our party, but the future of our country,” Gioia said.

Big local names who have donated to Rubio include real estate executive Peter Hunt, developer Paul Ciminelli and businessman Mark Hamister.

As for Bush, his local fundraising peaked around the time of the local fundraiser he held in June, back before billionaire Donald Trump roiled the race and replaced the former Florida governor as the GOP front-runner.

“Buffalo tends to be very event-driven,” said Nick Sinatra, one of the organizers of the Bush fundraiser and a member of the candidate’s national finance committee.

Because of his place on that committee, Sinatra said he could not comment on the state of Bush’s campaign, which has plunged into the single digits in most polls in the wake of much-criticized, charisma-free debate and campaign appearances. But Sinatra says he remains committed to Bush.

Hunt, the real estate executive, donated $2,700 to Bush before giving the same amount to Rubio later in the year.

Among other Republicans in the presidential race, retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson ranked third in Western New York fundraising, with $41,238, which was nearly twice as much as the fourth-place finisher, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz.

No other Republican candidate raised more than $10,000 in the 75 Western New York ZIP codes. Trump, who has vowed to self-finance much of his race, raised only $2,500 locally.

As for the Democrats, Clinton’s strong performance was no surprise.

Raising money for Clinton locally is comparatively easy for a reason, said Jeremy Zellner, the Erie County Democratic chairman.

“She is successful here because we know what she brings to the table,” Zellner said, noting that while serving as senator, Clinton worked to bring funding to the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus and several other major local institutions.

The list of Clinton’s donors looks like a who’s who of the local Democratic Party, with Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul, Erie County Executive Mark C. Poloncarz and a host of politically active lawyers and businesspeople giving money. Some 65 people locally gave Clinton the maximum donation of $2,700.

In contrast, Sanders received only two $2,700 donations locally, from attorney Todd Joseph and Barbara Ostfeld of Buffalo. Sanders received 90 $10 donations locally.

That’s similar to what has happened nationwide, as Sanders has built a strong campaign on grass-roots donations. Locally, though, the amount Sanders raised – just a bit more than Carson – indicates that his campaign has been late to bloom in Western New York.

Brian Nowak, a lead organizer for Bernie for Buffalo, said there are obvious reasons why Sanders hasn’t raised more money locally.

“Buffalo is one of the poorest cities in the nation,” he noted, and the local Democratic infrastructure – from the Erie County Democratic Committee to some local unions – is solidly behind Clinton.

Nevertheless, a local group of Sanders supporters has been meeting for months, and will open the senator’s local campaign headquarters at 404 Amherst St. at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday, Nowak said.

And there is a sign in the campaign reports that Sanders is starting to build some momentum in the Buffalo area. Of the $46,267 he raised locally, $27,659 came in the last three months of 2015.

email: jzremski@buffnews.com