Obama and Perry Spend Big, but Huntsman and Bachmann Spend Fast

Some presidential candidates bet most of their warchests on early nomination contests.

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Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann is a staunch fiscal conservative, consistently advocating for balanced budgets and reining in spending. But her presidential campaign has taken the opposite tack in recent months, spending money faster than they have raised it in hopes of scoring a victory in Iowa.

In absolute terms, President Obama spent more than any other candidate in the third quarter, with $17.8 million. Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney was next, with $12.3 million. But both of these candidates, as well as Texas Gov. Rick Perry, also have substantial funds at their disposal. In relative terms, however, Bachmann far outspent her major rivals, spending more than 150 percent of what she took in during the third quarter. Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich both likewise spent roughly as much as they brought in from July to September, and former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman also spent big. These high rates of spending indicate that candidates who are flagging in the polls are rapidly depleting their warchests in the hopes of jumpstarting their campaign efforts.

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Bachmann is perhaps the prime example. The Minnesota congresswoman spent $5.9 million in the third quarter, compared to the $3.9 million she took in, reducing her campaign's bank account from nearly $3.4 million to $1.3 million. Huntsman was likewise a big spender, dropping $4.2 million while raising $4.5 million, leaving himself with only $328,000 in the bank. Santorum and Gingrich both also spent amounts roughly equal to what they took in, and have warchests that are only in the low six figures.

On the other end of the spectrum is Obama, who despite spending more than any other contender last quarter, also padded his campaign with the $42.1 million he brought in. Likewise, Rick Perry spent $2.1 million, compared to the $17.2 million he raised.

Whether Bachmann and her fast-spending colleagues can sustain the fight through a long nomination contest is the big question. Investing heavily in early fights can be a winning strategy, and it is clearly what Bachmann in particular is banking on, as she has focused much of her campaign's efforts on the Hawkeye State. In terms of potency, Iowa can be a good place to spend early money: "Many candidates have been able to turn a victory in Iowa into momentum," says Michael Beckel, spokesman for the Center for Responsive Politics, a nonpartisan campaign finance watchdog.

Popularity does not necessarily equal campaign cash, of course, and vice versa. Though Perry and Romney are at the top of the fundraising heap, they have taken in comparable amounts of small donations to their less-successful rivals in the polls. Bachmann, for example, has taken in $3.9 million this cycle in contributions under $200. Texas Rep. Ron Paul has taken in $6.1 million in these small donations, and businessman Herman Cain has nearly $2.7 million. Romney, meanwhile, for all his campaign's fundraising success has amassed just $3.1 million in small donations, and Perry has only $698,000. So even if candidates like Bachmann and Cain pick up some popularity from early successes, it might not translate to sums of campaign cash that compare to Romney and Perry's.