DENVER – As Sen. Barack Obama prepares to accept the Democratic presidential nomination in Colorado, he is enjoying great financial success in Maryland. The Illinois senator had received nearly $9 million in contributions from Marylanders as of July 31, according to the Federal Election Commission.
It is his seventh-highest total from any state, even though Maryland is just 19th in total population. Contributions to Obama in the state have more than quadrupled those to presumptive Republican nominee Sen. John McCain.
Obama’s popularity is especially evident in Prince George’s County, the wealthiest majority black jurisdiction in the nation, according to Census data. There, residents have so far donated almost twice as much to Obama as they did in all of the 2004 campaign to Sen. John Kerry, that year’s Democratic candidate. And the 2008 campaign is far from over.
Through July 31, Prince George’s County residents had contributed $964,247 in donations of more than $200 to the nation’s first major black presidential candidate. During the entire Kerry campaign of 2004, they donated $524,009, according to figures from the Center for Responsive Politics.
“Prince George’s County has been very good to Barack Obama,” said Terry Speigner, chairman of the county’s Democratic Central Committee.
On primary election day in February, the Illinois senator cemented his position as the leading candidate in Prince George’s County by soundly defeating the rest of the field. Despite below-freezing temperatures and an ice storm, more than 170,000 voters went to the polls, nearly double the previous record set in 2004.
“In Prince George’s County 78 percent of the vote went to Barack Obama,” said convention delegate Karren Pope-Onwukwe, a Democratic National Committee member from Hyattsville. “People still come into my office looking for a button, a bumper sticker, anything with Obama’s name on it.”
Along with contributions from the general public, Obama has received much of his money from bundlers, donors who make the maximum allowable donation for a primary or general election of $2,300, and then gather donations from as many other people as possible.
Stewart Bainum Jr., chairman of Choice Hotels International and a Maryland convention delegate from Montgomery County, and his wife, Sandy, have bundled more then $100,000 for the Obama campaign, more than triple that of anyone else in the state, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
One influential Prince George’s County contributor is Orlan Johnson, an attorney and partner at Saul Ewing LLP who met Obama in 2006.
“Our jurisdiction was probably one of the highest fundraising areas for African-American communities in the country,” Johnson said. “It seems as though Prince Georgians really connect with the senator.”
There are several reasons why Obama connects so well in Prince George’s County. Many residents believe in his politics and the fiercely contested primary between Obama and Sen. Hillary Clinton also spiked public interest.
“People who don’t normally watch CNN or watch the talking heads, they know all of the people’s names,” Pope-Onwukwe said. “They have been watching this like people would watch the Olympics.”
An always-present factor is race, and a large number of black residents are excited about this first-time opportunity to support a major black presidential candidate. They see Obama as a candidate they can identify with like none before.
“They are excited about what’s going to happen Thursday night,” said Prince George’s County Executive Jack Johnson, referring to Obama’s scheduled acceptance speech. “They’re going to be proud of it. They’re talking to their children about it.”
The second-term county executive is a convention delegate who supported Obama last year, switched to Clinton and returned to Obama in May. He believes many affluent, black county residents gravitate toward the Illinois senator because they see his success as running parallel to their own.
“Obama is a transforming candidate for them,” Johnson said. “He is the personification of our struggle in America.”