Votes of rural Americans decided the last two presidential elections and will be crucial in the upcoming contest. But thus far city-dwellers and donors, not country ones, are paying the cost of the 2008 campaigns.

A Daily Yonder analysis of recent campaign contributions finds that while 26 percent of the nation’s population lives in rural communities, residents in these rural counties donated only five percent of the total contributions given to presidential candidates. The DY study covers donations reported in the first quarter of this year — a total of $114.3 million collected by 17 candidates. Of this sum, only $6 million came from people living in rural communities. (Here’s the Daily Yonder’s definition of what’s rural.)

Per capita, rural Americans gave eight cents to presidential candidates; city residents gave fifty-two cents, six times more.

Democrats are out-fundraising Republicans in rural communities, according to the Yonder’s analysis. Democratic candidates took in 55 percent of the $6 million raised from rural residents in the first quarter of 2007; 45 percent of the total went to Republicans. The Democrats’ lead in rural fundraising is the mirror opposite of the presidential vote outcomes of 2000 and in 2004; in both elections, Republican George W. Bush won nearly 60 percent of the rural vote, support that was crucial to his victory. (Political scientist Seth McKee concluded that “in the 2000 and 2004 elections, Republican George W. Bush would not have won the presidency if not for the support he received among rural voters.”)

Where the votes from rural America have been decisive in the general election, the ability of rural Americans to shape campaigns through contributions in the long preamble to the 2008 Election Day is, so far, minor — a nickel to the city donors’ 95 cents.

Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, a Republican, gathered the largest amount of contributions from rural counties. Romney, who headed the 2002 Winter Olympics in Utah, raised just over $214,000 in the first reporting period of 2007 from Summit County, where many of the athletic events took place. (The Daily Yonder will report the states and rural counties that gave the most to presidential candidates later this week.)

Former North Carolina senator John Edwards ranked second, collecting donations across the nation. New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, a Democrat, ranked third in contributions from rural communities, attracting hefty contributions in the southeastern counties of his home state. Members of the oil and gas business have been active in raising money for Richardson in the area around Hobbs, Roswell and Carlsbad, according to New Mexico press reports. Richardson raised $270,500 from Lea County alone, the largest contribution from any rural county. Lea’s support for Richardson came despite the county’s Republican voting record. In 2004, George Bush received 80 percent of the vote in Lea County.

The frontrunners in both the Republican and Democratic parties have received only mediocre financial support from rural counties. Former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani and New York Sen. Hillary Clinton are leading all the polls nationally in the Republican and Democratic primaries. Yet Clinton ranks fifth among the 17 candidates in financial support from rural counties, Giuliani ranks seventh.

An accounting of how much each of the 17 presidential candidates collected from rural America in the first quarter of this year can be found below. And here is a ranking of rural contributions by state, from Texas, which donated the most, to Alaska, whose rural residents gave a total of $4,400.

NOTE: This analysis was conducted by Tim Murphy, an Athens, Ohio, geographer, using candidate contribution files collected by the Federal Election Commission.

RankCandidatePartyAll Counties With DonorsRural Counties with DonorsTotal Raised From Rural Counties
1 MITT ROMNEYRep690302$1,147,925
2JOHN EDWARDSDem794385$1,067,770
3BILL RICHARDSONDem388136$895,699
4BARACK OBAMADem750339$601,491
5HILLARY CLINTONDem579221$572,155
6JOHN S. MCCAINRep689294$554,395
7RUDOLPH GIULIANIRep593223$450,696
8MIKE HUCKABEERep11250$150,226
9RON PAULRep25882$97,509
10CHRIS DODDDem23431$83,650
11SAMUEL BROWNBACKRep26279$78,268
12TOMMY THOMPSONRep5824$67,706
13TOM TANCREDORep20564$51,270
14JOE BIDENDem22121$50,650
15DUNCAN HUNTERRep10322$37,150
16JAMES GILMORE IIIRep4316$36,500
17DENNIS KUCINICHDem8925$28,700

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