With Hillary Clinton’s campaign coming to an end this weekend, Barack Obama’s rise as the Democratic nominee brings serious bad news to a new group: John McCain’s finance team.
A review of campaign finance data offers not one ounce of good news and barely any hope for the McCain campaign’s ability to compete with Obama’s fundraising prowess.
To make matters worse, Obama’s campaign, which raised $272 million through April for the primary, now is reaching out to Clinton’s fundraisers, who raised another $200 million through April, in an effort to unite forces and bury the historically deep-pocketed Republicans.
Take a look at some of the numbers:
• If each of Obama’s donors gave him a modest $250, he’d have $375 million to spend during the two-month general election sprint. That’s $186 million a month, $47 million a week.
• During the same September to Nov. 4 period, McCain will have about $85 million to spend since he has decided to take taxpayer money to help finance his campaign activities.
• The Republican National Committee, which is charged with closing the gap between McCain and Obama, has $40 million in cash. Obama raised almost as much — $31 million — from just his small donors in the month of February. His total for the month, $57 million, exceeded the RNC’s cash balance.
• Obama has more than 1.5 million donors; McCain has a few hundred thousand. If just a million of Obama’s donors sent him the maximum donation, $2,300, he could raise $2.3 billion.
OK, that’s not going to happen. But campaign finance experts and Democratic fundraisers say a conservative estimate of Obama’s general election fundraising potential hovers around or above $300 million.
Such a massive financial advantage will allow Obama to compete in more states than McCain and force his rival to defend states that should rightfully be Republican wins.
Obama’s use of such tactics has already been on display in the primary.
Pennsylvania was a must-win for Clinton and, given its large population of working-class Democrats and women, was a long shot for Obama.
Still, he spent $10 million advertising in the Keystone State. Why? He forced Clinton to spend all her money and much of her time there to ensure she pocketed a 10-point win.
Meanwhile, Obama moved ahead of her to the next set of equally critical primary states. He pulled ahead of her in North Carolina, squeezed the gap in Indiana and essentially ended any hope of a then-bankrupt Clinton overtaking him in the delegate race.
In the general election, Obama could afford to set up large operations in Virginia, North Carolina, Georgia, New Mexico and a host of other states — maybe even McCain’s own Arizona..
That would force McCain to pick the midsize-state battles he could afford while also trying to hold off a free-spending Obama in essential big states such as Ohio, Missouri and Florida.
“McCain has to make every dollar count in the general election, and Obama will have money to burn,” said Evan Tracey, co-founder of Campaign Media Analysis Group.
The financial gap between the two presumed nominees was also on display during the primaries. Obama spent $75 million on television advertising, and McCain spent $11 million, according to Tracey.
Clearly, a major reason for the imbalance is the length of the Democratic primary compared with that of the Republican race. But it’s also a matter of resources: Obama raised nearly three times more money than McCain’s $100 million tally through April.
And the plight of the McCain campaign could be even worse than many Republicans feared.
McCain isn’t a good fundraiser — which explains why he decided to take taxpayer money for the general election — and he has yet to excite his own party base.
He reported a record moth in April, raising $18 million, after sewing up his party’s nomination. In 2004, Democrat John F. Kerry raised $44 million in the month after he emerged his party’s presumptive nominee.
“What’s been striking about the McCain money is that there hasn’t been any big surge,” says Anthony Corrado, an expert on campaign finance. “There are no big spikes; there is slow growth.”
In addition, the $300 million general election haul for Obama projected by some experts includes a relatively modest boost from Clinton backers, a projection that could significantly underestimate their influence and the Illinois senator’s ultimate financial strength.
Obama backers this week said they have been quietly reaching out to Clinton supporters and assuring them that they will be welcome in the next phase of the election.
Those conversations have been delicate, said one major Obama backer. “In the last few weeks, both campaigns have been very respectful of one another, by and large. It was important every primary be waged.”
The conversations now are more open and could progress more rapidly now that Clinton has made a decision to formally leave the race.
“These are folks who have worked together for Democratic nominees repeatedly for years. There is a great capacity for us to join arms and work together,” said one Clinton fundraiser who asked to remain anonymous.
Another Clinton “HillRaiser,” the nickname for her major fundraisers, said “people will substantially get engaged and assist.” But he added that it could take a little time for such a merger. “You can’t move on to another date with the same intensity quite that quickly,” he said.
To be sure, some Clinton backers won’t switch sides. Clinton’s campaign recruited an impressive array of women to raise money, some of whom are expected to move to the sidelines without a female at the top of the ticket.
Others, said one major fundraiser and adviser, may shift their energy toward helping the Democratic National Committee fill its coffers.
Just as the RNC is expected to share expenses with McCain, the DNC is aiming to raise more than $200 million for its general election activities that will be coordinated with Obama.
Still more money raisers may pivot to the House and Senate campaign committees, where their work may be more noticed and remembered after November. “If they go to Obama, they know they will always be one tier out from the candidate. If they can raise a whole bunch of money in Senate races, they will still be players,” the adviser added.
But even with some falloff, no one expects Obama to be short on resources, in part because of his inspirational appeal and also because of a greater urgency among Democratic activists to seize the White House and change the national agenda.
“All hands are going to be on deck,” said one longtime Democratic fundraiser. “A billion is spent on advertising at the Super Bowl. That’s one football game. This is worth every nickel we can put into it.”