US Politics Analysis: Why Obama Has the Edge So Far --- Campaign Finance and the State of the Election
Samuel L. Jackson's pro-Obama "Wake the F*** Up, America"
The latest pro-Romney "attack ad" by the SuperPAC American Crossroads
Next Wednesday, Mitt Romney and Barack Obama will meet in the first of three campaign debates.
Opinion varies as to how critical the debates are in persuading undecided voters to support a candidate, but the cold fact is that in this campaign they are the last chance for Romney to turn around Obama's momentum. The President is currently leading by margins, especially in the battleground states, that have him as a 4-1 favourite –-- 80% probability --- to retain the White House.
The reasons for Romney's disappointing performance are many, but one that is not receiving the attention that it deserves is that conservatives have not yet been able --- as many feared after the Supreme Court decision of 2010 --- to swamp the Obama campaign with a series of negative ads drowning out the voice of the Democratic incumbent. There is time for that change, especially if big donors are encouraged by Romney's performance in the first debate to pour in last-minute millions, but money has not yet shifted the fundamentals in this race.
The Washington Post features a 2012 Presidential Campaign Finance Explorer --- the bottom line numbers:
Both President Obama and Mitt Romney have raised approximately $780 million from campaign funds, national parties, joint fundraising committees, and SuperPACs. Obama has spent $612 million and Romney $534 million, leaving the Republican challenger with more cash on hand to influence voters in the final stages of the campaign.
Obama has managed to stay competitive in the fundraising race, even as the Republican Party and Romney-backing SuperPACS have significantly outperformed their counterparts, because his Presidential campaign fund enjoys a huge advantage. While Romney's SuperPACS lead Obama's by $145 million to $44 million, the Democrat's official campaign fund has a lead of $441 million to $284 million.
The Obama advantage in that fund, where individual donors are limited to a maximum of $2500, is the outcome of a much larger number of small contributors. Obama has garnered nearly $250 million from donations of less than $200; Romney has only $50 million. In contrast, Romney leads the President by $130 million to $60 million among those donating more than $2000.
Obama's overall lead in campaign funds has yielded a significant bonus. The Washington Post notes, “Starting several weeks ago, both campaigns gained the ability to obtain radio and TV advertising at the 'lowest unit rate', which is guaranteed to federal candidates within 60 days of an election. The legal requirement means that campaigns --- but not parties, nonprofits, or SuperPACs --- can commandeer airtime at the cheapest prices.”
Result? The Obama campaign aired 37,000 ads during the 2 weeks of the party conventions. By contrast, the Romney campaign only managed to broadcast half that number.
In advertising, Obama has outspent Mitt Romney by $290 million to $250 million. Romney has spent more on direct mail shots, primarily through the services of specialist fund raising groups like SCM Associates, but Obama has a larger campaign payroll: $135 million compared to $60 million.
The Post's TV Ad Tracker indicates that, of the $500 million spent on the ads so far, 80% has gone on negative messages. Obama's official campaign has not been immune to this trend, spending $125 million on attacks, but it is the pro-Romney groups who stand out as the attack dogs. Between them, American Crossroads/Crossroads GPS and Americans for Prosperity have spent $94 million, with the Tracker giving them a 100% negative ad rating.
If the Obama campaign has largely managed to neutralise the impact of SuperPAC money to date, there are signs that warn the road ahead may not be so comfortable. The Center for Responsive Politics notes that American Crossroads has “a whopping $32 million still in the bank, which it can let loose as an enormous water balloon of negative advertising in the closing weeks of the campaign".
More worryingly for the Obama campaign, The New York Times reported this week how conservative SuperPACS have begun to synchronize their messages:
They operate largely from the same playbook, sharing polling data and focus group research to develop many of the same lines of attack. And they are being careful to keep their efforts consistent with the themes being emphasized by Mitt Romney’s campaign. The result is a striking degree of symmetry. To see many of the anti-Obama ads that have run on television recently, it would be easy to conclude that they were made in the same studios, by the same producers working for the same campaign.
For now the Obama campaign has managed to raise enough money to avoid being overwhelmed by attack ads. The debate on 3 October could change that. It is the only one exclusively devoted to Romney's perceived strong suit of domestic policy, so a poor performance will add to the narrative of a walkover for Obama in November, Any money left in Republican donors' pockets will start drifting to Congressional and Governor's races.
In contrast, if there is one slip from Obama, be prepared for a barrage of negative ads from Republican groups, operating largely if unofficially from the same script, hoping for an "October miracle" for Mitt Romney.