Omaha Mayor Jim Suttle took his lumps in a recall election and holds a sluggish job-approval rating in the city.
But the mayor's standing with his campaign donors appears to be solid.
A World-Herald analysis shows that three out of every four of the mayor's previous donors who are active in this race have supported Suttle's re-election campaign.
That's a high rate compared with his four competitors, who are undertaking their first citywide campaigns and who face a challenge in broadening their pool of donors.
The World-Herald analyzed lists of donors in the latest campaign finance reports from the five mayoral candidates and compared them with the candidates' donors from previous runs for public office. The newspaper looked for donors who came back to a candidate and donors who had supported a candidate at one time but put their money elsewhere in this campaign.
Suttle has been successfully turning his opponents' previous supporters to his side. At least 63 of his donations have come from people who supported one of his current challengers in one of their earlier campaigns.
Suttle's campaign consultant, Gary DiSilvestro, said the numbers reflect a well-run campaign that has been active for years.
“We like our old friends, and our new friends,” he said.
Suttle's filings show that his campaign has paid DiSilvestro's company, Prairie Strategies, at least once a month. His campaign was active before any other had even started.
Other campaigns were quick to point out that Suttle's success is likely due to his incumbency.
“It doesn't surprise me at all the mayor is retaining many of his donors,” said businessman Dave Nabity, who is also running for mayor. “Everybody's afraid of crossing the incumbent.”
Still, the perception among many is that Suttle is a wounded candidate. He won a recall election in 2011 by 3 percentage points, and a World-Herald poll last year found only a 42 percent job-approval rating.
Some donors are hedging their bets. The newspaper's analysis showed that about three dozen donors are supporting multiple candidates. There is no clear pattern in whom those donors are supporting.
In the case of architectural firm DLR Group, the company is backing Suttle in the mayor's race, although it previously supported Nabity in his run for governor in 2004. But Dale Hallock, one of the firm's managing partners, is supporting Nabity in the mayoral race.
Although Nabity is the only mayoral candidate who has never held an elected office, he is right behind Suttle in getting old supporters back onboard. He has also been able to persuade a large number of his opponents' previous supporters to give to him in the mayoral race, doing so more than anyone but the mayor.
Nabity is especially strong in attracting previous Suttle supporters, having drawn in more donors from Suttle than any other candidate. Nabity was a key figure in the recall campaign against Suttle in 2011.
Paul Landow, a political science professor at the University of Nebraska at Omaha, said Nabity's fundraising success is likely due to his unique place in the race.
Although Nabity is one of several candidates critical of the city's unions, he is the only one who has never worked with them on contracts or legislation. That gives him more leeway to disparage those organizations, Landow said, which resonates with some voters.
“The other candidates aren't able to make the same claims as Nabity because they're in a much different position,” Landow said.
The World-Herald's analysis is limited by what campaign records are publicly reported. Campaigns are required to report the names of donors who contributed more than $250, though some candidates may choose to list more.
City Councilwoman Jean Stothert is in the middle of the pack — about half her previous supporters who have given in this election are backing her mayoral campaign.
She has also lost a large number of previous supporters to other candidates. That could partly be a product of having a large number of donors in the past. About three dozen of her former donors are now supporting another candidate; most of those have gone to Suttle.
Ryan Horn, a spokesman for Stothert's campaign, said the pattern doesn't mean much given the $230,000 in new donations that Stothert received last year.
“We're talking about a handful of donors out of hundreds,” he said. “I wouldn't apply much relevance to it. It doesn't keep me up at night.”
Former City Council President Dan Welch and State Sen. Brad Ashford have had the least success getting past supporters to donate this time around. Each has about a third of previous supporters back in the fold.
Chris Peterson, Welch's campaign manager, said not going back to former donors was a calculated decision. Donors, most of them new faces, gave Welch more than a quarter of a million dollars last year, putting him among the leaders in new money raised.
“He's just been able to bring new people into the fold, people who aren't traditional givers,” Peterson said. “That was a purposeful strategy.”
Sam Clark, who is helping run Ashford's campaign, said the lack of repeat donors is reflective of Ashford.
“He's almost shy about asking for money,” he said.
The next campaign finance reports are due in early March and will show what campaigns have been up to since the beginning of the year.
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Donations to Omaha mayoral candidates
Here are the top 10 cash donors to each campaign in 2012. The donors do not include contributions from the candidate or the candidate's previous campaign committees. Total is the amount raised in 2012 from any source, including the candidate or previous committees.