Political pundits and mainstream reporters are fixated on polls and fundraising. Frankly, both provide easy stories with little thought or leg work. But such accounts provide readers with a misleading picture of elections and the political landscape.
As I’ve repeatedly observed, early polls are largely a function of name ID and have little predictive power for elections months away. Likewise, money is not the end-all or be-all in races. In 2008 Hillary Clinton had a huge money lead until then-candidate Barack Obama caught on and began to level the playing field.
So it is not surprising, but also not illuminating, when there are a flurry of money stories about the Republican fundraising totals for the second quarter. Politico pronounces: “The Republican presidential fundraising reports are still coming in, but a clear winner has already emerged: Barack Obama.” It is supposedly a sign of weakness for Mitt Romney that he gathered less than $20 million, although his competitors are stuck in low single digits. (Isn’t it actually a sign that RomneyCare is not the silver bullet his opponents were hoping for?)
My own take is that money reflects political excitement and involvement, but is vastly overrated. If it were the key to success, Rudy Giuliani or Romney would have won the 2008 nomination and Hillary Clinton would be president. That is not to say money is unimportant. Former Bush official and now political consultant Matt McDonald wrote yesterday:
With unemployment trending toward an Election Day rate in the mid-eight percent range, the nascent negative campaign strategy we are seeing from Obama 2012 may not be the campaign they wanted to run, but it is the best one available and it could still get him across the finish line for a second term.
This month’s jobs day happens to coincide with the end of the second quarter of fundraising numbers. A billion dollars in fundraising can smooth over a lot of bumps in the road and cause a lot of bumps for the President’s eventual opponent.
That said, the Republican candidate need only have “enough,” not more than Obama, to win if his or her candidacy has solid support (that is, a united Republican Party with appeal to independent voters) and an advantage on the issues. Matt e-mailed me today: “I think it is too early to panic, there is plenty of time to raise money, but without a good record to run on, the Obama campaign is going to come at the GOP nominee hard, and whoever that is, they will need significant money to compete.”
It’s not unusual for the incumbent president to have an advantage in the money race, particularly if he is unopposed in the primary. But if unemployment is still at historically high levels, if we are still bleeding red ink, if the U.S. position in Afghanistan and elsewhere is deteriorating — and the Republicans have a viable nominee — there won’t be enough Democratic money in the country to save Obama. Put it this way: Would Obama rather have a billion dollars in the bank or the unemployment rate below 7 percent?