Is Ted Cruz the Real GOP Frontrunner?

Polls can be deceiving, but money talks. According to fundraising, Texas Senator Ted Cruz is the frontrunner in the GOP presidential race. Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush and retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson have raked in the cash from big and small donors, respectively, but only Ted Cruz has both a strong and balanced appeal.

At this point in the presidential race, the money a candidate has raised, and from whom, may be a stronger indicator of longevity than his or her position in the “horse race” polls. Former Texas Governor Rick Perry had a rich super PAC, but his lack of grassroots support, which translated to an inability to raise money from small donors, killed his campaign. A majority of his former donors -- along with those of Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker -- have flocked to Cruz.

Ted Cruz ranks second in overall GOP fundraising to Ben Carson, and second in total dollars (including super PACs) to Jeb Bush. His ratio of low-dollar to high-dollar donors is healthy, and despite his enmity with the Republican Party’s establishment, he has a surprisingly high number of endorsements from elected officials.

Fundraising Balance is Critical to Presidential Campaigns

Fundraising can be a strong indication of grassroots and established support. Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders has built an impressive grassroots machine, raking in $28.2 million in small-donor contributions of $200 or less, through September 30. Sanders will likely lose, however, because his ratio of small-donor money to large-donor ($2,000+) money is 40 to 1. Besides Obama (whose ratio was only 3 to 1), no nominee in the past four cycles has exceeded a 1 to 1 ratio this early in the campaign. Sanders’ lack of support among the established donor class will likely destroy him.

Similarly, Jeb Bush has raised $24 million, but his fundraising is also skewed - this time in favor of major donors. Jeb’s small-donor money to big-donor money ratio is 1 to 15. Even Mitt Romney’s ratio at this point in 2012 was more balanced, at 1 to 7.

At this point in the 2000 primary, then-Texas Governor George W. Bush had a small-to-large ratio of 1 to 12, but he also boasted a majority of major donors -- representing a united large-donor class. While George W. had 80 percent of major donors in 2000, Jeb only has 35 percent today -- the donor class is split. Also at this point in 2000, George W. had 19 percent of the small-dollar total -- essentially tied for first. Jeb has only 2.3 percent, ranking ninth.

As National Review’s Lawrence Britton wrote, “Since the dawn of the era of Internet campaigns, beginning in the 2000 election, no candidate in either party who was not, at this point in the election cycle, in the top two in grassroots fundraising has won the nomination, nor has any candidate outside the top three in major-donor funding.”

Real Estate mogul Donald Trump, with his largely-self-financed campaign, is a wild card in the GOP presidential race, but the establishment's fear and distrust of Trump virtually guarantees that Republican elites will do everything in their power to prevent him from securing the nomination.

Cruz ranks second to Carson in small-dollar fundraising, and second to Jeb Bush in big-donor funding. His position represents large grassroots support AND backing by the more established class -- a truly viable combination.

Next: Why Walker and Perry Donors Flock to Cruz