How many fundraisers is too many for President Obama?
President Obama will attend six fundraisers today in Maryland and Pennsylvania, a series of cash collection events that bring his total number of fundraisers held for his reelection bid up to 160, according to figures maintained by CBS News’ Mark Knoller.
That, again according to Knoller, is more than double the 79 events that President George W. Bush had held at this same time in the 2004 presidential race.
(Sidebar: Knoller is a national treasure. If you don’t follow him on Twitter, you should rectify that problem immediately.)
Republicans have seized on Obama’s rapid fundraising pace as evidence that he is far more dedicated to raising money and winning reelection than to performing the actual job for which he was elected in 2008.
In a Politico op-ed earlier this year commemorating Obama’s 100th fundraiser since coming into office, Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus wrote:
On average, one can reasonably say attending a fundraiser takes two hours out of the president’s schedule. So, in total, the president has likely spent at least 200 hours, or five standard workweeks, filling his campaign coffers since April.
While this line of attack is one both sides use when they don’t control the White House, there are two reasons why the only people Republicans are likely to sway with the fundraiser-in-chief hit are members of their own base.
One is logistical; the other is historical.
Let’s start with logistics.
Comparing what Bush raised — or how many events he held to raise it — to what Obama is currently doing is misleading.
Remember that while Bush raised and spent north of $270 million in the primary season — aka until he was formally chosen as the Republican nominee at the GOP national convention — he accepted public financing for those two-plus months between, roughly, Labor Day and Election Day.
Obama, on the other hand, opted out of public financing for the general election in 2008 — the first presidential candidate to do so since the system was put in place following the scandal of President Richard Nixon and Watergate.
In the 2008 election, Obama collected better than $750 million — a pace he and his campaign have said they expect to equal in 2012 when both Obama and former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney opt out of public financing. (That dual move, by the way, ensures the end of the public financing system as we know it.)
Obama will need to raise roughly three times as much as Bush did in 2004 simply to equal what he collected in 2008. That he has done twice as many fundraising events as Bush to date then is not all that surprising.
(The rightness of Obama’s decision to opt out of public financing — both in 2008 and 2012 — is a different conversation for another blog post.)
Then there is the simple fact that trying to run a campaign on how much money the other guy (or gal) is raising and spending rarely works
The people who care about the origins of all the money washing around in the political system are people in the two parties’ bases — although most of those people are gathered in the Democratic base at this point.
Persuadable voters — unaffiliated and independents — don’t follow politics closely enough to be all that interested in who raised what from whom. That reality is why the Obama White House’s efforts to turn the 2010 midterm elections into a referendum on conservative super PAC spending didn’t come close to working.
Why? Because people in the middle don’t vote on campaign finance; they think there is too much money flowing through the system on both sides and tend not to single out one party for blame. That goes double for a presidential election where the pricetag is expected to soar north of $2 billion.
Undecided voters are likely to conclude that both parties are spending too much time raising money and that nothing will change no matter who wins. They’ll move on and vote on what they view to be more pressing issues like the economy, jobs and the debt.
Is that somewhat depressing? Yes. But it makes it much, much harder for Republicans to score any genuine political points with the ideological middle by attacking President Obama’s aggressive fundraising schedule.