For the first time in the campaign, Republican John McCain in May raised about the same amount of money, $22 million, as Democrat Barack Obama.
McCain also closed the gap in the amount of cash in the bank the two parties’ presumptive nominees have at their respective disposals as they enter the first phase of the general election.
McCain reported having about $32 million in cash for primary related expenses at the end of May.
Obama reported having $43 million in hand at the start of June—but about $10 million of that is dedicated to the general election.
Obama’s fundraising in May marked a sharp fall-off after months of record-breaking donations. Even in difficult times, such as when he suffered a key loss in Pennsylvania in April, Obama brought in a steady flow of cash that usually topped $30 million a month.
The surprising cash parity between McCain and Obama means the candidates begin the general more evenly matched than many experts expected, although things could change quickly given Obama’s ability to raise money quickly through small online contributions.
According to Obama’s campaign, the drop in donations was caused in part by a shift in focus from bringing in big money to honing in on the delegates needed to clinch his party’s nomination.
At the same time, he was forced to burn through his cash reserve in the final round of primaries, which were hotly contested by a significantly under-funded Hillary Clinton.
The New York senator raised just $16 million in May and spent $19 million. Her campaign ended the primary with more than $20 million in debts, including $11 million in loans from her own bank account.
According to Clinton fundraisers, her priority now is to raise enough money to pay off vendors who have waited months for payment. Some of those bills are due in Iowa, home of the first presidential caucus in January.
Obama spent $27 million in May, about $6 million more than Clinton.
The Illinois senator dolled out $4 million for television ads, $3.3 million for travel, $3 million for direct mail, and nearly another $3 million for phone banking. He spent another $1.7 million on print advertisements and nearly another million on Internet ads.
Meanwhile, McCain spent just $12 million.
The Arizona senator dropped about 3.5 million on television ads and spent another $1.4 million on postage. No other spending category for the month of May reached a million dollars.
Having effectively wrapped up his party’s nomination, McCain spent the month focused almost exclusively on replenishing his coffers. His schedule was dominated by money-generating events that helped produce his biggest fundraising month to date.
It won’t be known for another month whether June produced a rush of donations for Obama after Clinton conceded. In 2004, Democrat John Kerry received a windfall of $44 million in the month after he emerged as the nominee.
But even if McCain has closed the gap as of now, Obama could open it back up quickly. His fundraising schedule this month has been ratcheted up. Next week, he will attend a star-studded fundraising event in Hollywood. Also next week, Clinton will publicly join forces with Obama, sending a signal to her formidable fundraising arm to do the same.
Still, his near-equal financial position with McCain may have played a part in Obama’s decision this week to forgo public financing and unleash the full force of his fundraising apparatus in the general election.
In interviews, Obama campaign manager David Axelrod has cited the Democrats prolonged primary, which gave McCain a head start on fundraising for the general election, as a key reason for opting out of the system that would otherwise have given each candidate $84 million to spend in the general.
By opting out, Obama hopes to use his likely financial advantage to stretch the presidential battlefield and force McCain to spend money defending what have been raditional Republican strongholds.
This week, he began a $4 million ad campaign in nearly a dozen swing states. They range from such perennials as Missouri, Ohio and Florida to new battlegrounds in Colorado, North Carolina, Georgia and Alaska.
The presumptive Democratic nominee has also used his funds to station nearly 20 full-time workers in Georgia to build a broad grassroots operation and register new voters.
Experts estimate that more than half a million voting-age African Americans are not registered, and the campaign is aiming to put many of them on the rolls as possible.
It may already be working: While most polls give McCain a ten-point edge in the Peach State, one new poll released this week shows McCain and Obama running even there.