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Saturday, March 31, 2007

The Impact of the Money Primary

"Early money is like yeast. It helps raise the dough." - EMILY's List

At the close of business today, March 31st, all Presidential candidates must disclose to the FEC the amount of money they have accrued in their campaign war chests. Tomorrow, when the deadline has passed, we'll start to see some numbers. Some candidates, like Dennis Kucinich and Tom Tancredo, will reveal their war chests being about the size of a briefcase. Other candidates, like Hillary Clinton, will reveal that they have the deed to Fort Knox. The races for Kucinich and Tancredo are effectively over.

Therein lies the money primary. Without an American casting a single official vote, half the field will be eliminated. Half of the remaining half will have an absurdly difficult mountain to climb, and no oxygen tank to help them. The top six or seven candidates, meanwhile, will be on the ski lift, looking down and waiving good-bye, as they scale the mountain of campaign finance.

The impacts of the money primary vary, but they're different shades of the same color (green).

1. Who's winning? If premature polls weren't enough, the revelation of fundraising amounts adds to the idea that a candidate is winning or losing. Until the Iowa Caucus and the first primaries, it's technically a tied contest. Of course, it's everything but tied. The candidate with the most money is the favorite.
2. Who'll be scared away? Say you're a Democrat thinking of supporting Joe Biden in the upcoming election, but you have a soft spot for the Clintons as your second choice. Suppose Senator Clinton earns ten times the money that Senator Biden was able to raise, effectively eliminating Biden from the race. In that scenario, many Americans abandon ship, and hop aboard the USS Clinton, in an effort to wage war against more formidable candidates like Barack Obama, John Edwards, and Bill Richardson.
3. Who met expectations? Every single campaign tries to downplay expectations heading into the revelation of funds on March 31st. And can you blame them? If you told people that you were a great singer, then you sang for them, and you were good but not great, they'd be disappointed, wouldn't they?? Contrarily, if you said you were average, and then they heard you and you're pretty good, it'd be a pleasant surprise and you'd be complimented. (I hope that made sense.) Candidates downplay expectations, and then when the numbers are revealed, they have lots of people in the field to exclaim how the candidate far exceeded what they were hoping for. Gotta love politics.
4. Who didn't? If a candidate clearly falls short of expectations, many supporters will begin to question that support. Murmurs will ensue, questioning why this campaign can't get going, while several rivals are doing better than expected. This has potential to damage several major campaigns.
5. Who has earned more heavy donors? While average Joe Voter is not basing his support on this money primary, Conrad Corporation and Lex Lobbyist might very well be. They do not want to throw time and money into a losing campaign. They want to back the winner, in order to have some pull in the new government. An under-funded campaign cannot win, and big donors know this. Therefore, campaigns falling behind early will have that much more difficult of a time catching up.

For comparison's sake, in the election of 2000, the last election with no incumbent President, the March 31st money deadline revealed that Governor Bush was leading all Republicans with 7.5 million dollars and Vice-President Gore was leading all Democrats with 9 million dollars. Those two, of course, ended up being the two nominees.

Finally, what good is a presidential politics blog without some predictions?

Predicted finishes in money primary
Republicans
1. Senator John McCain - This might be the beginning of McCain's comeback. Once the issue is not his support for the war but rather his ability to raise money, he'll start to gain ground on poll leader Rudy Giuliani. Senator McCain did get a late start however, so if he comes in under expectations, look for some evidence that most of his money came late.
2. Former Mayor Rudy Giuliani - The early leader in the GOP has no doubt earned some extra dough thanks to his hefty lead in most national polls. A large sum of dollars in the money primary will go a long way towards crystallizing his lead, as it's very important that he did not peak too early.
3. Former Governor Mitt Romney - He should have hung tough with McCain and Giuliani for no other reason than I think conservative groups must have contributed more to Romney in an effort to keep socially liberal Giuliani on par with the rest. Any of these top three have the ability to come in at #1 here, because even Romney, who was a brilliant businessman and effective governor of a northeast state, has a lot of favors owed to him over the past ten years. This money primary might very well be his launching pad, aimed at catching McCain and Giuliani.
4. Former Governor Mike Huckabee - The far right, including the politically potent Evangelicals, will show early support towards Mike Huckabee and #5.
5. Senator Sam Brownback - Senator Brownback hasn't done nearly a good of a job as Huckabee with interviews and getting his name out around the country. Two chief reasons for this: First, Brownback is a working politician, representing Kansas, while Huckabee is out of work and has tons of time to be a full-time campaigner. Second, Brownback should understand that his donor base is much smaller than those of the loaded Big Three, and therefore he must be careful to spend at the right time. And when's the right time? When the conservative base looks around at the Big Three and says, "Uh oh."
Yet to enter, but potential to raise a lot in a short time - Newt Gingrich, Chuck Hagel
6. Representative Tom Tancredo
7. Representative Duncan Hunter
8. Former Governor Tommy Thomson
9. Representative Ron Paul
10. Former Governor Jim Gilmore

Democrats
1. Senator Hillary Clinton - I hate going out on limbs, but I think Ms. Clinton comes in first here. I expect her breaking all previous records. Comparison - Gore raised $9 million by March 31, 1999; Edwards was the leader in 2003 with $7.4 million. Look for the Clinton campaign to have tens of millions of dollars.
2. Senator Barack Obama - The thorn in the side of Clinton is the incumbent rock star of the Democratic Party. Obama has packed many-a-forum, undoubtedly raising a lot of cash along the way.
3. Former Senator John Edwards - He had a bump in interest, sympathy and contributions with the announcement about this wife's health. Hopefully for the Edwards campaign, they can use this new interest to make a run at Clinton and Obama. Still, his strength will lie more in the voters themselves, specifically in the early primaries... if he makes it that far.
4. Former Governor Bill Richardson - Perhaps the campaign where publication of money is most important. Trying to squeeze his way into contention, Richardson will need a strong showing, and/or a clear underperformance from the Big Three, in order to become a major candidate.
5. Senator Chris Dodd - A very capable fundraiser.
6. Senator Joe Biden - One of the war's most vocal opponents might have attracted many anti-war Dems that wanted an experienced guy at the helm. Same could be said for Dodd.
Strong candidates yet to enter - Al Gore, Wesley Clark
7. Dennis Kucinich - I love the guy, but numbers are numbers.
8. Mike Gravel - I think my high school teaching job pays me more than this guy has raised.


So keep an eye on this today and tomorrow. Catch you on the flip side.
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