By Carl Weiser and Chuck Raasch
Enquirer Washington Bureau
WASHINGTON - New York City. Beverly Hills. Cincinnati. An analysis of the first six months of 2003 fund raising shows that when it comes to presidential campaign contributions, Cincinnati - and in particular Indian Hill - shares some elite company.
In fact, Cincinnati, so far, is arguably the center of President Bush's fund-raising universe.
Only one other ZIP code in the United States has supplied more money for the Bush-Cheney re-election campaign than Cincinnati's 45243 ZIP code, which covers Indian Hill and Madeira. Donors in the ZIP code are responsible for $277,500 of Bush's contributions, second only to a ZIP on New York City's posh Upper East Side.
The ZIP is home to Mercer Reynolds, Bush's longtime friend, business associate, ambassador to Switzerland - and now chief fund-raiser for his campaign.
A June fund-raiser featuring first lady Laura Bush at Reynolds' home was the most lucrative of the first lady's four fund-raisers this year. It pulled in $800,000 - about $250,000 more than her fund-raisers in Chattanooga, Philadelphia and Raleigh.
A second Cincinnati ZIP code, 45208, ranks 15th for the Bush campaign. It includes Hyde Park, Mount Lookout and part of Walnut Hills. The other top 15 ZIP codes include several elite Manhattan neighborhoods, ritzy Washington suburbs and Beverly Hills 90210.
"It's just a natural base for contributors for the president's campaign," said Reynolds, the Bush campaign's finance chairman. "The president has a number of personal friends in Cincinnati from his oil days and baseball days."
The phenomenon started with Reynolds himself, an investor. Along with Cincinnati business partner William O. DeWitt Jr., they joined with Bush in the oil business - and later invested in baseball together - in the late 1970s and 1980s in Texas.
"Our office headquarters were in Cincinnati," Reynolds said Thursday in a rare interview. "The president made regular trips to Cincinnati, and we made regular trips to Midland. As a result he met lots of people in Cincinnati who became friends."
"He would stay at my house or Bill's house. Laura would come up, too," Reynolds said.
The Bush campaign labels its biggest fund-raisers Pioneers, those who have raised $100,000; and Rangers, those who've raised $200,000.
Of the 23 Rangers, the Cincinnati area boasts two: DeWitt and Carl Lindner, chairman of American Financial Group and owner of the Cincinnati Reds. (Reynolds, if he weren't finance chairman, also would be a Ranger.) Ohio, Kentucky and Indiana have no other Rangers.
The 45 Pioneers include Cintas founder Richard Farmer and John C. "Jay" Kern of Indian Hill, a managing partner at Reynolds DeWitt & Co., the downtown investment firm run by Reynolds and DeWitt. Only one other Ohioan is a Pioneer: W.R. Timken Jr. of Canton, owner of The Timken Co.
Only one Kentuckian is listed as a Pioneer - Republican National Committeewoman Cathy Bailey of Louisville, a civic leader and philanthropist.
'A special place'
If Bush is considered lucky in fund raising in Cincinnati, all agree on the reasons: Reynolds and the handful of fellow GOP boosters clustered around Indian Hill.
"These people are highly motivated and well organized," said Curt Steiner, an Ohio Republican political consultant. Cincinnati "is a special place with a special mission: to support the national Republican Party and what it stands for."
Reynolds himself now spends only a few nights a month in Cincinnati because of his fund-raising duties. One son already is working on the campaign with him and another will join next year.
Even Bush's critics say the reason for Cincinnati's largesse is Reynolds, the longtime friend and former co-owner of the Texas Rangers.
"Is he going door to door?" joked Craig McDonald, executive director of Texans for Public Justice, a liberal group that tracks Bush donors. "The credit for Cincinnati being up on the list probably goes to Mercer Reynolds."
Many of Bush's Pioneers and Rangers raise money in their hometowns, since that's where they know people they can call and ask for a $2,000 contribution.
What do the fund-raisers get? For 43 of the top 2000 fund-raisers, including Reynolds himself, they receive presidential appointments, according to Texans for Public Justice. (Reynolds was named ambassador to Switzerland.)
"You always want access to what is termed the most powerful person in the world, whether you're a powerful rich person yourself," McDonald said. "You like to get invited to the White House. You like to have the president sitting in your box at the stadium."
But the area's political beliefs also play a major role in Bush's success.
Cincinnati is the most consistently Republican major metro area in the nation, according to the Almanac of American Politics, and Bush won easily here in 2000. An April poll from the University of Cincinnati found Bush's approval rating in Southwest Ohio at 80 percent.
In Bush's his first run for president in 2000, three Cincinnati ZIP codes were among the 20 most lucrative for the campaign. They were Indian Hill, Hyde Park and downtown.
When it comes to Democratic donations, Ohio is not even a player.
Beachwood, near Cleveland, is the top ZIP code for donations to the Democratic presidential candidates. The United States has 42,727 ZIP codes, according to the U.S. Postal Service.
The Bush campaign has raised $34.4 million, according to its most recent filing - more than the nine Democratic hopefuls combined. The campaign's goal is $175 million.
Contributing: GNS database editor Robert Benincasa. Email email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org
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