In Money Race, Obama Has the Advantage

Hillary Rodham Clinton officially suspended her campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination Saturday at a rally in Washington, DC. "The way to continue our fight now ... is to take our energy, our passion, our strength, and do all we can to help elect Barack Obama the next president of the United States," she told her supporters.
By Matthew Mosk
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, June 7, 2008

Sen. Barack Obama will head into the general election with the ability to raise significantly more money than his Republican opponent, an extremely rare position for a Democrat and one that could give him a huge advantage in mobilizing supporters, reaching voters and competing across the country.

Party leaders say they expect Obama to surpass the more than quarter-billion dollars he amassed during the primaries, buoyed by a fundraising list with more than 1.5 million names, an uncommon knack for attracting money online and the expected addition of scores of established bundlers who helped bankroll Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton's campaign.

Obama's advantage, which could stretch into the tens of millions over Republican Sen. John McCain, would allow the senator from Illinois to build a far more robust field operation and let him drench radio and television airwaves in a much broader array of states, including those where Democrats do not traditionally compete. He would also have enough money to enjoy the luxury of making mistakes, whereas any poor choices McCain makes would be felt much more acutely.

"From my vantage point, the enthusiasm is there, and for the first time we're seeing the [Internet] fundraising and the traditional fundraising both pulling the rope the same way," said Mitchell Berger, a Florida lawyer who helped oversee fundraising for President Bill Clinton in 1996 and for Vice President Al Gore in 2000, and who is raising money for Obama. "More than any time in my memory, Democrats are ready to go."

While not all of McCain's aides and supporters agree that Obama will substantially outraise him this fall, they said the senator from Arizona is uniquely positioned to wage a lean, underdog effort, much as he did in the Republican primaries. They said his knack for parlaying late-night television appearances and free-wheeling bus tours into free media attention have proved that money is not the only way to win.

"Senator McCain has demonstrated he can run a competitive campaign without spending as much as his opponents," said senior adviser Charles R. Black Jr. "He just finished demonstrating it."

McCain also appears confident that his fundraising will continue to accelerate. Yesterday, campaign manager Rick Davis announced that McCain will air ads in 10 swing states, including costly markets such as Ohio and Pennsylvania, from now until November. Davis called it "the single most significant ad buy since this election cycle began two years ago."

McCain campaign officials told reporters yesterday that their fundraising will be bolstered by the Republican National Committee, which had more than $53 million in the bank at the start of the month; in comparison, the Democratic National Committee had less than $5 million on hand.

Republicans have enjoyed a fundraising advantage in the modern era of presidential politics, and only Democrats backed by the power of incumbency, such as President Bill Clinton in 1996, have been in a position to compete.

In 2000, for instance, George W. Bush raised $95.5 million during the primaries, almost double Gore's $48 million. And during the general election, when both candidates accepted an equal share of federal funds, the RNC outraised its Democratic counterpart by almost $120 million, according to Federal Election Commission records. The pattern continued in 2004.

This year, that pattern has flipped. Obama has raised $265 million over 15 months, and he had $46 million on hand at the end of April. McCain finished the same period having raised $96 million. He raised another $21.5 million in May and finished the month with $31.5 million in the bank. Obama has not released May figures.

While McCain appears poised to accept $85 million in federal money for the general election -- funding that will kick in after he formally accepts the nomination in September -- Obama has not indicated whether he will honor an earlier pledge to do the same. His top fundraisers say they expect him to forgo the funds in favor of raising money with no upper limits.

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