Josh Kraushaar has the most important report of the day, albeit one largely ignored by both conservative and mainstream media. He documents that between hard money and PACs, Mitt Romney has essentially leveled the financial playing field with President Obama. After taking us through the math, he explains:
That brings the combined Obama and Democratic outside group totals to $98.3 million cash-on-hand, with the GOP groups tallying $94.1 million. Take out the Democratic groups strictly devoted to congressional activities, and it’s a virtual financial tie. With labor and environmental groups poised to help Obama’s reelection, Democrats still could hold a narrow edge. But it’s hardly the cash advantage that would allow Team Obama to run negative advertising uncontested against Romney, without an aggressive response.
It’s a far cry from the vision of a billion-dollar Obama re-election campaign bankroll that Democratic strategists are now downplaying. And it shows that the amount of time Democrats spent complaining and attacking the liberalized campaign finance laws before the 2010 midterms would have been better spent preparing for an infrastructure utilizing super PACs to their advantage. Priorities USA, headed by former White House spokesman Bill Burton, hasn’t yet shown it can compete with American Crossroads so far — and time is running short.
President Obama has built up an imposing fundraising infrastructure. But thanks to the rise of the super PACs, it might not be enough to hold any kind of fundraising advantage in 2012.
Umm, that’s sort of big news, wouldn’t you think?
There are multiple ways in which this development has serious ramifications for a Romney-Obama general election. Remember that Obama’s only hope of reelection is to, as one operative put it, “kill” Romney with negative ads and attacks (you can tell because it’s what the left-leaning blogosphere prefers to write about). That is a viable approach, I suppose, if you have an overwhelming money advantage. But can you do that if you’re essentially matched ad-for-ad? At some point Obama will need a positive message and a defense of his record.
In addition, money isn’t everything, but it does (in 2008 it sure did) reflect enthusiasm. Maybe the $94 million for Romney is indicative of more GOP support than you’d gather from reading the campaign coverage. And likewise, maybe the base, including the bundlers on the left, have a lot less enthusiasm than Obama needs to overcome the fervent desire by conservatives to get him out of office.
Finally, the figures show that Obama’s third party groups are a bust. (“Priorities USA banked a meager $1.5 million, receiving money from just 42 individual donors in the last six months. The party’s congressional super PACs — Majority PAC and House Majority PAC — also didn’t bank much, $1.3 million and $1.17 million, respectively.”) You wonder if the Democrats spent too much time decrying Citizens United and too little time setting up an adequate fundraising network to supplement its hard money advantage. Indeed, you can understand why the left was so upset by the Supreme Court’s decision upholding political speech (individuals could always spend unlimited amounts if they chose, so we’re not talking bout Sheldon Adelson here). If you can’t compete in the political speech marketplace, you don’t want to a free marketplace.
Perhaps Obama will pull ahead in the money race. But if not, a lot of assumptions about 2012 will need to be rethought.