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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Burned Up

Today’s Washington Post provides a little clarity in the over-reported but under-analyzed story of where the various presidential candidates stand in the money-grubbing competition. In particular, there’s a chart that summarzes second-quarter and total fundraising; second-quarter spending; cash-on-hand as of June 30; and the second-quarter “burn rate” (the ratio of spending to new money), for all D and R candidates.
The top-line story for the Post is that early spending–and thus the burn rate–is proceeding at a uniquely high pace this cycle, and particularly in the second quarter. Interestingly enough, Barack Obama, whose first-quarter 26% burn rate was the highest among Democrats, had the lowest in the second quarter–but it was 50%.
It’s also obvious that different candidates are getting highly variable bangs for their buck. The second-quarter spending champ, Mitt Romney ($20.5 million), has invested in early-state television ads that have clearly helped catapult him into the lead in Iowa and New Hampshire. John McCain spent more ($13 million) in the second quarter than any other Republican besides Romney, and more than Hillary Clinton, for that matter, and all he got for it was an imploding candidacy.
The cross-party comparisons continue to show the Democratic money edge. There’s already been a lot of talk about the (roughly) two-to-one overall Democratic fundraising advantage for the second quarter. But Democrats have nearly a three-to-one advantage ($93 million to $32 million) in cash-on-hand. John Edwards, often depicted as a fundraising under-achiever in this cycle’s environment, actually has as much money in the bank ($12 million) as Mitt Romney, even after the latter’s $9 million “loan” of personal wealth to his campaign.
Edwards’ situation raises the larger question of whether money requirements in this campaign are comparative or absolute. Edwards’ campaign consistently answers all questions about its finances by saying it needs to raise and spend $40 million before the Iowa caucuses, regardless of what others have. One of the odder features of the Post article is an assertion by lowa political bigfoot Gerald Crawford (whom the Post failed to identify as an HRC backer) that $30 million is “an absolute floor” for pre-Iowa fundraising. This probably didn’t endear him to Chris Dodd’s campaign, which is saying its total budget is $20-25 million.
As for Republicans, the two candidates hoping to earn media designation as “the dark horse to watch,” Sam Brownback and Mike Huckabee, have, respectively, $500,000 and $400,000 on hand going into the very expensive Iowa Republican Straw Poll in August. In terms of the insanely high financial demands of this cycle, that’s enough to buy a meal deal, but not enough to supersize it.

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