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The fund-raising of a Republican noncandidate

Little of the money that former Sen. Fred Thompson raised in June came from donors who had previously given to other Republican candidates.
/ Source: The New York Times

When former Senator Fred D. Thompson began testing the waters this spring for a run for the Republican presidential nomination, he sparked heated speculation about just where his financial backing might come from.

Would Mr. Thompson poach contributors from Senator John McCain, the friend he backed for president in 2000 and often agreed with while serving in the Senate? From Rudolph W. Giuliani, who was once a real live prosecutor in New York City, kind of like the one Mr. Thompson played on “Law and Order”? Or from Mitt Romney, who, like Mr. Thompson, was making a concerted effort to woo conservative voters this year?

Now, it can be told — at least partly. A report filed this week with the Internal Revenue Service shows that of the $3.46 million that Mr. Thompson raised during June, very little came from donors who had previously given to the other Republican candidates. And when he did get money from donors who had already given to other campaigns it was most likely to have come from donors to Mr. Romney.

An analysis by The New York Times found that Mr. Thompson raised at least $134,000 from people who had given to Mr. Romney; at least $88,000 from people who had given to Mr. McCain, and at least $74,000 from people who had given to Mr. Giuliani. (More than a dozen donors gave to several candidates, and some gave to all four major Republican candidates.)

In interviews, some of the Romney donors who later gave to Mr. Thompson said they were attracted by his conservative message. “I like both of them because of their strong, conservative approach to fiscal responsibility and a strong national defense,” said Albon Head, a lawyer from Fort Worth who donated to both men.

Others said they were still shopping around for a candidate in the remarkably fluid Republican field.

Jack Overstreet, a prominent Republican donor from Colorado, said he made a donation to Mr. Romney in January after a friend called and asked. But while Mr. Overstreet was impressed by Mr. Romney, he said that he grew disappointed as Mr. Romney continued to support the Bush administration’s policies in Iraq. So he said he had still been open-minded when Mr. Thompson personally called last month seeking help.

“You have a guy who really has a strong, likable personality and seems to have a reassuring manner about him,” he said of Mr. Thompson. “I’m real impressed with him. I hope he runs. I hope he comes out with a completely different take on Iraq and foreign policy.”

When Mr. Thompson first talked seriously about entering the race, some political analysts said they expected him to draw support from Mr. McCain, because of their similar stands on issues in the past. That expectation was heightened when several former high-profile McCain supporters — including John Dowd, Mr. McCain’s former lawyer — said they would be supporting Mr. Thompson. In the end, though, there were relatively few defections.

Georgette Mosbacher, a major Republican fund-raiser from New York who had been raising money for Mr. McCain, agreed to help Mr. Thompson, a close friend, too, when it became clear he was building an organization. But she said that because Mr. Thompson had yet to make a formal announcement of his candidacy, it was difficult to persuade other donors to change their allegiances.

“Outside of myself and some other really close friends of Fred,” Ms. Mosbacher said, “I found people very reluctant to cross over and make that switch from who they were committed to — at least until Fred actually announced.”

Of course, it was not until early July — just after the filing period ended — that Mr. McCain’s campaign was plunged into turmoil by the revelation that it had spent nearly all the money it had raised, leading to the departures of the campaign’s top strategists and layoffs of more than half of the campaign’s staff. And with signs that Mr. Thompson has ramped up his fund-raising since then, there may well be more defectors in the next filing period.

The $3.46 million that Mr. Thompson raised was less than the $5 million some of his supporters were hoping for. Nearly half of the money came from Tennessee, Mr. Thompson’s home state; some came from Tennesseans who had given money to other campaigns earlier in the year, but then lent support to a native son weighing a race.