Independent Lincoln Chafee '75 loaned his campaign $200,000 in December, as polls continue to show him on top of the race for governor.
Chafee, a former U.S. senator and fellow at the Watson Institute for International Studies, made the loan on Dec. 29, according to the quarterly finance report filed by his campaign with the Rhode Island Board of Elections, two days before the end of the fourth fundraising quarter.
Previously, Chafee had loaned his campaign $110,000, according to the campaign finance data — $60,000 in May 2009 and $50,000 in September.
Chafee told The Herald that his loan was meant to serve as a signal that he is serious about his candidacy, and intends to remain in the race.
"I wanted to send a message that I'm committed to this race," he said.
Chafee's campaign began the fourth quarter of 2009 with a balance of $200,122.26 and ended with $396,482.74. His total cash is $441,717.38 and his total liabilities amount to $310,000 as of the end of the fourth quarter, according to the finance report.
These numbers fall short of those reported by his two Democratic rivals, Attorney General Patrick Lynch '87 and General Treasurer Frank Caprio, who are competing for their party's nomination.
Republican Gov. Donald Carcieri '65 is prevented by term limits from running again.
Lynch reported a balance of about $620,000, with total cash of about $777,000. Caprio reported an even more impressive haul, ending the fourth quarter with a balance of over $1,540,000, with total cash coming to about $1,707,300, according to his report.
Chafee also lags both Democrats in contributions from individuals, raising only $39,546 from individual donors, as opposed to Lynch's $208,874 and Caprio's $179,825, according to campaign finance reports.
Republican candidate John Robitaille, currently Carcieri's communications director, joined the race in January, and does not need to file his first campaign finance report until April 30.
Chafee attributed his low fundraising numbers to the fact that he has been out of office and thus not raising money for a number of years, while both Democrats are current elected officials and have been raising money continuously for years.
"I could argue back that (my opponents) have been campaigning for the last three years, while I've been at the Watson Institute," Chafee said, acknowledging that Lynch and Caprio have a "head start" in terms of fundraising.
To underscore his point, Chafee said that he has only hired a professional fundraiser in the last few days.
He also said that because he has been out of office and is no longer affiliated with a party, Rhode Islanders might need more time to get reacquainted with him. He said he feels confident that once they do, his fundraising will pick up.
"We haven't had an independent governor in Rhode Island," Chafee said, "and people want to watch a little bit longer in circumstances such as these."
Although Chafee trails his opponents in fundraising, his poll numbers should give his campaign optimism. A new poll by WPRI-TV shows him leading the race no matter which Democrat wins the nomination. Against Lynch, Chafee has the support of 34 percent of registered voters, Lynch has 23 percent, with Robitaille taking 18 percent and 22 percent undecided.
Chafee said that as he continues to perform favorably in the polls, his fundraising numbers will increase, as voters gain confidence that he can win as an independent.
Against Caprio, the poll shows a much closer race. Chafee leads by only 1 percent, 31 percent to 30 percent, a statistically insignificant difference. Robitaille comes in third with 13 percent, while 23 percent remain undecided.
These results are similar to those of an internal poll released last November by the Chafee campaign, which showed the independent candidate beating Lynch by 13 percent and Caprio by 2 percent.
With voter backlash against the Democratic Party and candidates of all stripes looking likely in 2010, Chafee believes he is well-poised to benefit from the current political environment.
"I think the recent elections in Virginia and New Jersey and Massachusetts have shown that (independent voters) rule," Chafee said. "Independents are very influential. I can make the case very clearly that I am one of them — my record reflects it."
Chafee's relatively low fundraising figures should not be seen as a sign that he is unpopular or that his campaign is flagging, said Wendy Schiller, professor of political science. It was widely assumed that he would in part self-finance his bid, she said, as he has never been an enthusiastic fundraiser.
Schiller also said that fundraising is not a crucial priority for Chafee, as he already possesses widespread name recognition and a deep reserve of goodwill among Rhode Islanders — two main aims of campaign spending. Exit polls taken during the 2006 Senate election showed Chafee's approval rating at 63 percent, even as he lost to Democratic Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse 46 percent to 54 percent.
In addition, Chafee's decision to campaign without party support complicates his fundraising efforts, Schiller said, as office-seekers typically rely on the institutional support of political parties to raise money.
Schiller said she also believes that Chafee would have been better off by running as a Republican. Rhode Island voters have in recent years elected Republican governors, she said, such as Carcieri and Lincoln Almond, who served from 1995 to 2003, to counterbalance the Democrat-dominated General Assembly.
Caprio's superior performance to Lynch in match-ups against Chafee is a reflection of voter anxiety about the economy, Schiller said. His stewardship of the state's finances as general treasurer is an advantage, she said, with many voters approving of his performance. In contrast, voters are less concerned with the law and order issues that are dealt with by the attorney general.
"People are worried about the economy, not crime," she said.
Schiller identifies Chafee's main challenge now as showing what he would do about the budget and unemployment.
"Rhode Islanders know him, they like him," she said. "Now he has to show what he would do as governor."
Although voters nationwide are growing wary of Democratic governance, and despite the rise of the right-wing tea-party movement, Schiller says such developments are unlikely to play a significant role in the gubernatorial race.
Because Rhode Island is such a small state, she said, and because voters have more opportunities than in larger states to meet the candidates personally, they are very aware of who the candidates are.
"Rhode Islanders have a localized view of elections," she said. "They are not swayed by national trends. They use their own personal judgment."