Sen. Barack Obama will head into the general election with the ability to raise significantly more money than his Republican opponent, an extremely rare position for a Democrat and one that could give him a huge advantage in mobilizing supporters, reaching voters and competing across the country.
Party leaders say they expect Obama to surpass or exceed the more than quarter-billion dollars he amassed during the primaries, buoyed by a fundraising list with more than 1.5 million names, an uncommon knack for attracting money online and the expected addition of scores of established bundlers who helped bankroll Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton’s campaign.
Obama’s advantage, which could stretch into the tens of millions over Republican Sen. John McCain, would allow the senator from Illinois to build a far more robust field operation and let him drench radio and television airwaves in a much broader array of states, including those where Democrats do not traditionally compete.
“From my vantage point, the enthusiasm is there, and for the first time we’re seeing the (Internet) fundraising and the traditional fundraising both pulling the rope the same way,” said Mitchell Berger, a Florida lawyer who helped oversee fundraising for Bill Clinton in 1996 and Al Gore in 2000, and who is raising money for Obama. “More than any time in my memory, Democrats are ready to go.”
While not all of McCain’s aides and supporters agree that Obama will substantially outraise him this fall, they said the senator from Arizona is uniquely positioned to wage a lean, underdog effort, much as he did in the Republican primaries. They said his knack for parlaying late-night television gigs and free-wheeling bus tours into free media attention have proved that money is not the only way to win.
McCain campaign officials told reporters Friday that their fundraising would be bolstered by the RNC, which had more than $53 million in the bank at the start of the month, compared to the DNC, with less than $5 million on hand.
Republicans have enjoyed a fundraising advantage in the modern era of presidential politics and only Democrats backed by the power of incumbency, such as Bill Clinton in 1996, have been in a position to compete.
In 2000, for instance, George W. Bush raised $95.5 million during the primaries, almost double Vice President Al Gore’s $48 million. And during the general election, when both candidates accepted an equal share of federal funds, the Republican National Committee out-raised its Democratic counterpart by almost $120 million, according to Federal Election Commission records. The pattern continued in 2004.
This year, that pattern has flipped. Obama has raised $265 million over 15 months, and he had $46 million on hand at the end of April. McCain finished the same period having raised $96 million. McCain raised another $21.5 million in May and finished the month with $31.5 million in the bank. Obama has not released May figures.
While McCain appears poised to accept $85 million in federal money for the general election – which will kick in after he formally accepts the nomination in September – Obama has not indicated whether he will honor an earlier pledge to do the same. His top fundraisers say they expect him to forgo the funds in favor of raising money with no upper limits.
Several veteran campaign strategists from both parties said Obama’s potential financial edge could emerge as a significant barrier for McCain.
McCain will have to consider the expensive advertising costs in places such as New Jersey and California when deciding whether to try to compete there, said Evan Tracey, of the Campaign Media Analysis Group.
“If I’m McCain, I’ve got to be a little intimidated by the kind of money Obama can raise,” Tracey said. “I mean, McCain basically has got to outmaneuver Obama. He’s got to guess right on issues, timing and markets pretty much every time between now and November.”