In all the early speculation about the contours of the general election campaign, one factor that surprisingly gets little attention is another historic aspect to Barack Obama’s candidacy: he will be the first Democratic nominee since LBJ to enjoy a major financial advantage over his GOP opponent.
And the word “major” may significantly understate that advantage.
In the Politico today, Jeanne Cummings puts it bluntly:
With Hillary Clinton’s campaign coming to an end this weekend, Barack Obama’s rise as the Democratic nominee brings serious bad news to a new group: John McCain’s finance team.
A review of campaign finance data offers not one ounce of good news and barely any hope for the McCain campaign’s ability to compete with Obama’s fundraising prowess.
The numbers are indeed daunting for McCain. Assuming he carries out his pledge to accept public financing for the general election campaign, that will give him a budget of about $85 million between now and November. The Republican National Committee has raised another $40 million, much of which will be spent to promote the presidential ticket.
As for Obama:
[C]ampaign finance experts and Democratic fundraisers say a conservative estimate of Obama’s general election fundraising potential hovers around or above $300 million.
Cummings underscores the conservative nature of that estimate by noting that if two-thirds of Obama’s existing donor base of 1.5 million were to “max out” with a $2,300 contribution, he could raise $2.3 billion.
Moreover, the Obama campaign now has five months to tap a vast new fundraising source: Hillary Clinton’s contributors.
The conventional wisdom is that a presidential general election is the one contest where “earned media” is typically more important than paid media. But the size of Obama’s money advantage is such that it may become very meaningful, particularly in terms of enabling the Democrat to effectively respond to attack ads and generally control the tone of the campaign. Moreover, there’s no substitute for money in setting up a general election infrastructure around the country, and Obama is also likely to have a big advantage in the other leading factor, enthusiasm.
As Cummings puts it:
In the general election, Obama could afford to set up large operations in Virginia, North Carolina, Georgia, New Mexico and a host of other states — maybe even McCain’s own Arizona.
That would force McCain to pick the midsize-state battles he could afford while also trying to hold off a free-spending Obama in essential big states such as Ohio, Missouri and Florida.
“McCain has to make every dollar count in the general election, and Obama will have money to burn,” said Evan Tracey, co-founder of Campaign Media Analysis Group.
So in assessing a general election campaign that currently looks like a cliffhanger, add financial resources to partisan identification trends, the issue landscape, and the mood of the country, as factors that should give Obama an edge. These factors do not in any way guarantee a Democratic victory, but it sure doesn’t hurt to have so many aces in the hole.