Obama sent shock waves through political circles when announced on Monday that he had amassed $150 million in campaign contributions in September, giving him upwards of $600 million for his campaign. While his fund raising makes a mockery of McCain’s paltry $100 million in taxpayer funded campaign money, the real advantage to Obama in the election is not likely to be decisive.
Obama is, of course, still the front runner. But McCain is closing hard as the race enters its second to last week. If Obama ultimately wins, it will have a lot more to do with the Dow Jones than with his level of campaign funding. Even if we assume his October funding brings him to even more dizzying heights, the realities of modern politics will limit the advantage that will accrue to his campaign.
McCain is, of course, funded not just by federal matching funds, but also by direct contributions to the Republican Party and to various independent expenditures (such as nationalrepublicantrust.com). Obama and the Democratic Party will still out raise McCain, federal funds, and the Republican Party, likely by a 2:1 margin. There is, of course, still time for supporters of each candidate to redress or change that ratio.
But, on television, where it counts, Obama will probably have no better than a 60:40 advantage over McCain. Much of the good television time in swing states has been purchased months ago. Extra money can help a campaign run one minute ads, as opposed to 30 second spots, and can make half hour or full hour “infomercials” possible, but the advantage of these extravagances is not proportionate to their cost.
Obama’s lingering problem is that with all his money, he does not have anything new to say. He has been repeating the same mantra for his campaign over and over again ever since the spring. By now, we all know that he wants to extend health insurance to “47 million Americans” (never mind that 10 million are here illegally) and wants to cut taxes for “95 percent of the population” (never mind that half don’t pay any taxes to begin with and the ‘tax cut’ is really just a welfare check). But he has nothing new to offer voters.
But McCain’s advertising is powering a bold new message, inspired by Joe the Plumber: That Obama will use the tax code to redistribute wealth. The social populist backlash against his proposals is closing the lead that Obama opened up as a result of the financial crisis. With things calmer on Wall Street (our fingers tremble as we write this), voters have two weeks to ponder what the onset of a socialist presidency would mean for Americans.
McCain has enough money to punch his message through. It will not get drowned by a sea of Obama media.
But McCain’s supporters must realize that this race is far, far from over. There is a realistic chance that he can win. And if there was ever a time for his supporters to open up their checkbooks, it is now. Give it now or he’ll take it later.