Hillary Clinton’s campaign says it raised $10 million in Internet donations after her Pennsylvania primary victory on Tuesday night.
If so, that’s a record haul and one desperately needed by Clinton, who is essentially broke after Democratic rival Barack Obama forced her to spend all her resources to capture the must-win state.
In May, the candidates will compete in a succession of contests that will leave little time for replenishing campaign war chests in between.
Several of those contests – Indiana, North Carolina and Kentucky – are also home to pricey media markets. In Indiana, for instance, candidates must advertise in six markets, including ultra-expensive Chicago, to reach the entire state.
“The closer the primaries are bunched together, the more compressed the cash crunch gets and the demands for money are relentless,” said Bill Carrick, a Democratic political adviser who is not affiliated with the campaigns.
Clinton has already scheduled two fundraisers in early May and her finance team leaders are encouraging supporters to dig deep or reach further and more creatively for new donors.
Her campaign is also trying to ratchet up pressure on Obama to agree to more debates, which offer invaluable amounts of free media time. Thus far, Obama has turned down debate offers.
Obama’s financial advantage is already evident in some of the coming primary states – and the Illinois senator enhanced his position by forcing Clinton to exhaust her kitty to capture Pennsylvania and stay in the race.
According to the March 31 Federal Election Commission disclosure reports, Clinton started April with just $8.5 million in primary cash in the bank (and $10 million in debts). Obama had $43 million in cash.
He spent just under $10 million on television ads in Pennsylvania, forcing Clinton to spend about $5 million on commercials alone, according to Campaign Media Analysis Group, an independent organization that tracks television ad buying.
“Obama clearly leveraged his resource advantage so that every dollar and day she had to spend there was a dollar and day she couldn’t spend in North Carolina and Indiana,” said Evan Tracey, CMAG’s founder.
The next big primary day is May 6th, when voters in those two states will go to the polls.
In North Carolina, Obama has more than a dozen offices, began airing television ads nearly a month ago and has a big lead in the polls. Clinton has eight offices in the state. She launched her commercials recently but is still being outspent two-to-one.
In Indiana, where polls show a tight race, Clinton is investing more resources. Both candidates on are television, though Obama is still outspending her substantially. Obama has 22 offices there to Clinton’s 28.
Looking beyond that, the resource gulf widens.
In West Virginia, which votes May 13, Obama already has four offices. Clinton opened her headquarters there just a week ago.
On May 20th, when voters in Kentucky and Oregon go the polls, Obama again begins with an advantage on the ground. He opened his Kentucky headquarters on March 29th and now has five satellite offices. Clinton opened her Louisville headquarter last week.
In Oregon, Obama has 11 operating field offices and has been on television since April 15th. Clinton has only four offices and isn’t running ads yet.
To be sure, more commercials and a greater number of field offices don’t guarantee success—as evidenced by Obama’s Pennsylvania loss.
“At this point, money remains important but is not dispositive. Most voters who are tracking this race are very familiar with the candidates,” said Alan Secrest, another independent Democratic adviser.
But Mark Mellman, also an independent Democratic consultant, said money can make a difference at the margins in such close contests as Indiana.
“Even in a cheap media market, if he is doing a strong poitive 60-second ad, an attack ad and has other groups to play defense as well and she has the points to support only one ad, she faces a quandary,” said Mellman.
According to Carrick, a campaign financial squeeze can also lead to a weaker ground operation.
Travel and appearances take top priority, “since that is the thing the media is going to see the most visibly,” he said, noting that the Clinton campaign must support entourages for both the candidate and her husband, former President Clinton. Television ads are a critical second priority.
That puts radio ads and field operations on top of the list of areas to trim. “You can lose a state over that,” he said.
That differential, however, could be mitigated for both candidates given that this year’s historic primary season is coming to a close, said Carrick.
“When multiple primaries are going on and people are dispatched to states down the road, it can hurt a candidate. But in this case, there is no down the road,” he said.
The biggest unknown for the Clinton campaign will be just how much they are up against. The next round of full disclosure reports won’t be released until May 20, after the month’s major contests occur.
The Obama campaign wouldn’t say how much money it raised after the Pennsylvania polls closed.
But sources close to the campaign say their online giving was humming, and rumors – false ones – spread that their system had crashed because of all the traffic.
“Every day, Americans from all walks of life continue to fuel our historic grassroots campaign with all the resources we need to compete in the remaining contests to win this nomination,” said Bill Burton, an Obama spokesman.