Senior officials in President Obama’s re-election campaign predicted Wednesday that Republicans will spend upwards of $1.2 billion on television ads in the general election, a sum they are unlikely to match.
“Just in the final ten days of this month, the Republicans combined are spending 20 million on the air compared to our 12 million,” said one official who spoke in the condition of anonymity. The official noted that at the moment Romney and GOP-aligned groups are outspending Obama and Democratic-affiliated groups by a three to one margin on television in some swing states.
To be clear, some (or maybe most) of this — campaign officials talking on background about how great the other guy is doing in fundraising — is spin. Obama is no slouch when it comes to fundraising — he collected $750 million in 2008 — and his campaign is smart enough to know that one of the best ways to goose its own major (and minor) donors is to warn of the avalanche of money coming in on the other side.
That said, Democrats have been fretting — largely privately — for some time about the possibility and even likelihood that Republicans will have more money to throw at this race than they will. The difference is that now the Obama campaign is going public with that concern.
“I think without question the president will be the first president in our lifetime who is going to be outspent in an election,” campaign strategist David Axelrod told the Wall Street Journal last Friday.
There’s little question that the rise of super PACs able to take unlimited donations has helped Republicans more than Democrats. Obama started encouraging super PAC donations in February, citing fears of a GOP onslaught. But even with the president’s support, Priorities USA Action, a super PAC run by two former White House advisers, has lagged in fundraising behind its Republican counterparts.
It’s not clear whether the Obama campaign’s decision to go public with their worries/predictions of being outspent on TV is part of a broader strategy to make Republican fundraising an issue in the campaign.
There’s little evidence that campaign finance has the power to persuade undecided voters, however. While most people believe there is far too much money in politics, they tend to adopt a “pox on both your houses” mentality, making it tough for one side to score political points.
In the 2010 midterm elections, for example, the White House sought to make the spending by conservative super PACs like American Crossroads an issue — to no avail.