Lea County, New Mexico, describes itself as arid and windswept, but it’s the most fertile rural county in the 2008 political campaign. Residents of Lea, in the extreme southeast corner of New Mexico, donated $271,150 to presidential candidates in the first quarter of 2007, the most of any rural county in the United States.

Not surprisingly, all but $650 of that amount went to New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson.

Contributions may be the only way the people of Lea (and the cities of Hobbs, Jal and Lovington) support Democrats. Lea County, New Mexico, is one of the most Republican places in the United States. In 2004, 80 percent of voters here chose George W. Bush over Democrat John Kerry.

Overall, rural Americans haven’t contributed much to the current presidential races. In an earlier story, the Yonder reported that although 26 percent of the country’s population is rural, only five percent of the money donated to presidential candidates in the first quarter of 2007 came from these rural communities.

Political donations have little to do with how counties vote – or at least how they’ve voted in the past. Democrats collected more than half (55 percent) of the money contributed by rural residents in January-March 2007. But of the top 50 counties in contributions, only 11 voted for Democrat John Kerry in 2004. (The same 50 rural counties had an average Republican vote of 60 percent in the last presidential election.)

The 50 rural counties making the largest contributions to presidential candidates in the first quarter of 2007 are listed below. (For a definition of what’s rural, go here.)

Lea and nearby Eddy County, New Mexico, are in the top five on the Yonder list for two reasons: New Mexico Gov. Richardson is running for president, and these two counties are rich in oil and gas. Richardson named Hobbs oilman Johnny Cope to head New Mexico’s transportation system; Cope held a fundraiser in Hobbs for Richardson on March 1 of this year when most of the money from Lea and Eddy counties was collected.

Number Two on the Yonder list of most generous rural counties is Summit County, Utah, site of the 2002 Winter Olympics, an event led by former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney. Summit County residents have given $231,450 to presidential candidates — 93 percent of that amount ($214,450) to Mitt Romney. Similarly, the fifth county on the Yonder list is Chatham County, North Carolina. Chatham is located just outside of Chapel Hill and its residents have donated $88,575 to candidates — $56,775 to former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards.

Most of the counties among the biggest contributors are richer that the rest of the rural U.S. But few are as wealthy as #3 on the list, Litchfield County, Connecticut. An ex-wife of Texas billionaire oilman Sid Bass lives in Litchfield. Wealth in the county, however, is subdued, according to the New York Times — women in Litchfield don’t wear high heels. People in the county do give to candidates, however, mostly Democratic ones (even though the county voted Republican in ’04). This was the top rural fund-raising county for New York Sen. Hillary Clinton and the second most generous to Illinois Sen. Barack Obama. Former New York Mayor — and Republican — Rudy Giuliani had less luck in Litchfield. It doesn’t rank in his top 25 rural counties.

The most giving rural counties in the presidential contest are also among the most luxurious resort areas in the country. There are counties famous for their slopes and hot tubs — Blaine County, Idaho (expensive housing and Democratic neighbors); Pitkin County, Colorado (i.e., Aspen; good for Barack Obama); Eagle County, Colorado (including Vail, which was also the most generous to Sen. Obama). There is prime beachfront property on the Yonder list — Monroe County, Florida (Key West, the second best county for Sen. Clinton); and Beaufort, South Carolina (Hilton Head, McCain country). There are also horsy pastures — Albemarle County, Virginia (best for Clinton, but good also for Giuliani, Romney and Sen. Chris Dodd); and Fauquier County, Virginia (good for McCain and Obama).

There are exclusively cool places on the Yonder list: Talbot County on Maryland’s Eastern Shore (Clinton and Obama); Teton County, Wyoming (Romney and Obama); and Taos County, New Mexico (Richardson, of course, collected the most here; Taos had the lowest Republican vote in 2004 — 25 percent — among all the top 50 Yonder counties).

Mostly, however, fundraising is about personal connections. Rudy Giuliani collected $13,800 from the Newsom family of Shelby County, Alabama. The Newsoms own Hibbett Sporting Goods Inc., which has 600 stores across the country. Mitt Romney raised $45,000 from Union County, South Dakota, an exurb of Sioux Falls and 26th on the Yonder list of most-giving rural counties. Most of that was raised within Dakota Dunes, a master-planned community that advertises the areas’ low taxes on its web page. John Edwards’s top rural county was Harrison County, in northeast Texas along the Louisiana border. Members of the Baldwin family of Marshall have contributed $25,300 to the former North Carolina senator.

None of the candidates is particularly dependent on money from rural places, however. Romney raised the most money from rural counties, but this amount was still only a little more than five percent of the total raised by the former governor.

Check the links below to find which counties contributed most to the major candidates:

Mitt Romney
John McCain
Rudy Giuliani

Bill Richardson
John Edwards
Hillary Clinton
Barack Obama

Below is a list of the 50 rural counties that contributed the most to presidential candidates in the first quarter of 2007.

NOTE: Geographer Tim Murphy, based in Athens, OH, composed the DY’s listings of campaign contributions made in the first quarter of 2007 from reports to the Federal Elections Commission.

RankCountyStateCounty SeatTotal DonatedPercent of Republican Vote in ’04 Election
1Lea CountyNMLovington$271,15079.8%
2Summit CountyUTCoalville$231,45053.2%
3Litchfield CountyCTLitchfield & Winsted$120,00052.9%
4Eddy CountyNMCarlsbad$92,09965.9%
5Chatham CountyNCPittsboro$88,57550.0%
6Albemarle CountyVACharlottesville$72,12549.0%
7Harrison CountyTXMarshall$69,00063.1%
8San Juan CountyNMAztec$68,05066.5%
9Talbot CountyMDEaston$63,15060.5%
10Merrimack CountyNHConcord$62,48247.4%
11Curry CountyNMClovis$61,75075.0%
12Blaine CountyIDHailey$61,45040.2%
13Pitkin CountyCOAspen$60,25830.5%
14Hunterdon CountyNJFlemington$59,55060.5%
15Fauquier CountyVAWarrenton$58,10064.0%
16Monroe CountyFLKey West$52,10049.8%
17Shelby CountyALColumbiana$51,20081.0%
18Taos CountyNMTaos$51,05025.0%
19Teton CountyWYJackson$50,65046.2%
20Montgomery CountyTXConroe$50,25178.5%
21Coconino CountyAZFlagstaff$49,65043.5%
22Goochland CountyVAGoochland$44,39565.0%
23Wasatch CountyUTHeber$43,95074.8%
24Grafton CountyNHNorth Haverhill$43,13843.6%
25Madison CountyMSCanton$41,15064.6%
26Union CountySDElk Point$39,75657.1%
27Benton CountyARBentonville$38,75069.2%
28Eagle CountyCOEagle$37,85046.7%
29Rio Arriba CountyNMTierra Amarilla$34,95034.6%
30Comal CountyTXNew Braunfels$34,82577.5%
31Bowie CountyTXBoston$34,10064.7%
32El Dorado CountyCAPlacerville$34,00062.1%
33Oldham CountyKYLa Grange$33,80069.9%
34Beaufort CountySCBeaufort$33,55060.8%
35Tallapoosa CountyALDadeville$31,45069.5%
36Rogers CountyOKClaremore$31,40067.7%
37Hays CountyTXSan Marcos$27,70057.3%
38Sussex CountyNJNewton$26,75065.0%
39Miller CountyARTexarkana$24,80057.9%
40Lincoln CountyNMCarrizozo$24,65068.3%
41Madison CountyIDRexburg$24,15092.8%
42Fillmore CountyMNPreston$23,85049.4%
43McKinley CountyNMGallup$23,75036.0%
44Sussex CountyDEGeorgetown$23,10061.0%
45Union CountyAREl Dorado$22,45059.8%
46Mohave CountyAZKingman$22,00064.2%
47Taney CountyMOForsyth$21,30070.8%
48Gallatin CountyMTBozeman$20,25157.7%
49Yavapai CountyAZPrescott$19,95061.7%
50Lenoir CountyNCKinston$19,50055.9%
50Sawyer CountyWIHayward$19,50052.9%

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