Republican officials said they put $50 million into "ground war" drives to register and turn out millions of new voters in 2001 and 2002, and an additional $125 million after that.
Meanwhile, Kerry, faced with a difficult primary campaign and infighting and turnover among his consultants, did not begin seriously to address the general election until after his Super Tuesday primary election victory in March, eight months before the November vote. By that time, the campaign was hamstrung by legal restrictions on any cooperation between the campaign and the independent 527 organizations running ads and mobilizing voters on Kerry's behalf.
How the Two Parties Split Their Millions|
The 2004 presidential campaigns and the national parties handed out bigger contracts, hired more consultants and bought more television time than ever, with both sides channeling millions of dollars to consultants specializing in media, direct mail and fundraising.
Here is how it was spent.
The Bush campaign turned to relative newcomers nurtured by White House political adviser Karl Rove. Their companies received at least $250 million from the Bush campaign and the Republican National Committee. They are:
Mark McKinnon (Public Strategies Inc.), a Texan and a former Democrat who put together the 12-member ad-making consortium, Maverick Media, which was paid $177 million, mostly for radio and TV time. Maverick consultants McKinnon, Alex Castellanos (National Media Inc.), Stuart Stevens (the Stevens and Schriefer Group) and Madison Avenue executives Bruce Van Dussen and Harold Kaplan agreed to be paid fees instead of a percentage of their ad buys. Sources estimated Maverick's consultancy fees were as much as $6 million.
Tony Feather, political director of the 2000 Bush-Cheney campaign, a principal in the direct mail and voter contact firm, Feather Larson & Synhorst DCI, which was paid $21.3 million.
Todd Olsen and Heather Shuvalov, who bought Rove's Austin direct-mail firm, forming Olsen & Shuvalov, which was paid $41.3 million.
The Kerry campaign hired mainly consultants entrenched in the Democratic establishment, led by Robert Shrum, a speechwriter, media adviser and strategist on eight losing presidential campaigns dating to Edmund S. Muskie in 1972. The Kerry campaign and the Democratic National Committee also used a consortium, called Riverfront Media, which was paid $150 million for TV advertising. The first receiving the Democratic work were:
Shrum, Tad Devine and Michael Donilon's firm, which was paid about $5 million.
James Margolis's firm, Greer Margolis Mitchell Burns and Associates, and Bill Knapp's firm, Squier Knapp Dunn Communications, which divvied up $5 million.
Democratic media consultants David Axelrod and Steve Murphy, who split about $1 million in fees for DNC independent expenditure ads.
527s' Ineffective Messages
The 527 groups, named after a section of the tax code and allowed by law to accept unlimited contributions, provided invaluable help in registering and turning out voters. America Coming Together put about $135 million into what became the largest get-out-the-vote program in the nation's history. But the 527s, fueled with money from billionaires such as George Soros, proved ineffective in helping Kerry deliver a consistent and timely message in his advertising.
Of all the money spent on television advertising for the Democratic nominee, Kerry's campaign controlled 62 percent, according to spending totals analyzed by The Washington Post. The rest was spent on ads whose content or placement could not be coordinated with the campaign. The Bush campaign controlled 83 percent of the money spent on its behalf, giving it far more control over when and how it advertised.
At two junctures, when Kerry was either out of funds or under pressure to conserve resources for the close of the campaign, the absence of an overall strategy had damaging consequences: in March 2004, just when the Bush campaign began its first anti-Kerry offensive; and in August 2004, when the Swift Boat Veterans commercials raised questions about Kerry's service in the Vietnam War.
The Democratic media 527s "didn't do what we wanted done," Kerry media adviser Tad Devine said. "We would have run ads about Kerry, we would have had answers to the attacks in kind, saying they were false, disproved by newspapers."
Harold Ickes, who ran the Media Fund, a 527 organization that raised about $59 million in support of Kerry, said the federal election law prohibiting communication with the Kerry campaign created insurmountable obstacles in crafting effective, accurate responses to anti-Kerry ads. Ickes said he regretted not responding to the Swift Boat Veterans' attacks, but at the time he thought they seemed "a matter so personal to Senator Kerry, so much within his knowledge. Who knew what the facts were?"
Early Research Is Like Yeast
The 2002 elections, along with the Kentucky and Mississippi gubernatorial contests the following year, became testing grounds for the Republican effort to mobilize supporters. Designed to get base voters to the polls, it became known as the "72 Hour Project," whose cost Republican officials refused to disclose but is estimated by sources to have been in the $200 million range.
Under Dowd's direction, the RNC began investing in extensive voter research. One of the most striking findings, according to Republican consultants, was the ineffectiveness of traditional phone banks and direct mail that targeted voters in overwhelmingly Republican precincts. The problem: Only 15 percent of all GOP voters lived in precincts that voted Republican by 65 percent or more. Worse, an even smaller percentage of "soft" Republicans, the 2004 target constituency, lived in such precincts.
The RNC decided to cast a wider net for voters. But to work, Dowd's motivation and mobilization strategy needed expensive, high-tech micro targeting to cherry-pick prospective Republicans who lived in majority Democratic neighborhoods.
Republican firms, including TargetPoint Consultants and National Media Inc., delved into commercial databases that pinpointed consumer buying patterns and television-watching habits to unearth such information as Coors beer and bourbon drinkers skewing Republican, brandy and cognac drinkers tilting Democratic; college football TV viewers were more Republican than those who watch professional football; viewers of Fox News were overwhelmingly committed to vote for Bush; homes with telephone caller ID tended to be Republican; people interested in gambling, fashion and theater tended to be Democratic.
Surveys of people on these consumer data lists were then used to determine "anger points" (late-term abortion, trial lawyer fees, estate taxes) that coincided with the Bush agenda for as many as 32 categories of voters, each identifiable by income, magazine subscriptions, favorite television shows and other "flags." Merging this data, in turn, enabled those running direct mail, precinct walking and phone bank programs to target each voter with a tailored message.
"You used to get a tape-recorded voice of Ronald Reagan telling you how important it was to vote. That was our get-out-the-vote effort," said Alex Gage, of TargetPoint. Now, he said, calls can be targeted to specific constituencies so that, for example, a "right to life voter" could get a call warning that "if you don't come out and vote, the number of abortions next year is going to go up. "
Dowd estimated that, in part through the work of TargetPoint and other research, the Bush campaign and the RNC were able to "quadruple the number" of Republican voters who could be targeted through direct mail, phone banks and knocking on doors.