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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Talking Money

As last week drew to a close, when most of America was still buzzing about Michael Phelps, each campaign released its fundraising totals for the month of July.
John McCain’s numbers appeared first — he raised $27 million, making July his biggest month since clinching the Republican nomination. Heading into August, his campaign reported having $21 million on hand and told reporters that, so far, around 600,000 people had contributed to the Arizona senator’s presidential bid. The Republican National Committee reportedly raised around $26 million and has $75 million cash on hand for the election.
Barack Obama’s numbers for the month were solid — he raised more than $51 million in July and closed out the month with $65.8 million on hand. Earlier in the week, we also found out that he crossed yet another financial threshold: 2 million donors have given to his campaign. The Democratic National Committee actually outraised the RNC for the month, pulling in $27.7 million, but the DNC continues to lag behind the Republicans in cash on hand, heading into August with $28.5 million in the bank.
The combined fundraising totals between the two camps are roughly equal. The Republicans have around $96 million while the Democrats have $94.3 million. But my guess is that this situation will begin to change as soon as each candidate accepts his party’s nomination.
As Marc Ambinder notes here, Barack Obama will get an immediate boost when high-dollar donors who had previously maxed out to his primary campaign can write new checks for the general.
On September 4th, the fundraising rules will change for McCain, when he receives $84 million in federal matching funds. He’ll need to spend all his primary funds before then, so don’t be surprised to see blanket television advertising from his campaign as August draws to a close.
As this NYT piece notes, Obama’s fundraising strategy shifted a bit in July and August. He began to attend more high-dollar events, meetings designed to attract major contributions from the party’s traditional wealthy donors.
That was by necessity.
The summer months by and large slipped away without the major, landmark events that were so beneficial to Obama’s small donor fundraising program in the winter and spring. The primaries were over; there were no debates; and no opportunities for significant televised speeches (like the Iowa Jefferson-Jackson dinner or the Philadelphia address on race). Clearly, the Obama machine continues to operate and raise amazing amounts of money every time the campaign sends out an email, but these events provide extraordinary and crucial spikes in terms of dollars.
That all changes soon (my guess is this week). I believe that we’ll see an Internet dollar surge with the vice presidential announcement, and so long as the campaign can keeps its servers from melting down, Obama’s acceptance speech will net millions of dollars. In September and October, each of the debates will be a mega-event, with an accompanying big dollar return.
In the fall, even with McCain taking public money, Republicans will have plenty of cash to be competitive if the map is limited to traditional swing states like Ohio and Florida. But Obama’s gamble seems likely to pay off — he should not only have an edge in dollars, but one that proves significant. That in turn should allow him to keep ads up and staff deployed in states like North Carolina and Georgia (to say nothing of Colorado and New Mexico). Then McCain will be forced to decide how it wants to allocate its resources. Will the Republicans undermine operations in a place like Michigan to shore up the campaign in Indiana?
Folks in Chicago will attempt to force McCain’s hand. The election could ultimately hinge on whether or not that attempt proves successful.

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