Obama Campaign Is in Worse Shape Than It Looks
One strains, studying the entire history of presidential elections, to think of a president who was re-elected under such economic conditions as prevail in the U.S. today. Now, with June's campaign finance data trickling out, we can add the grotesque financial mismanagement of the Obama campaign as another factor counting against the president in addition to those historic headwinds.
Last time around, Mr. Obama argued that his successful management of his campaign was proof that he was up to the administrative challenges of the presidency. Now, with months of evidence to back us, his opponents can convincingly argue that, in fact, his campaign shares the defects of his administration: out-of-control spending over the long term followed not by spending reductions, but instead by a frantic search for more money, wherever it might be found.
We don't know the final numbers for June yet. But here is what we do know. The Romney campaign and the RNC, smashing records, finished the month with around $160 million in cash on hand after raising $106 million over the last month. The Obama campaign raised $71 million in June after finishing May with $109 million in cash on hand. Figuring out the Obama campaign's present cash level is a matter of simple algebra -- $109 million plus $71 million minus X, X being the amount spent in June.
How much did Team Obama spend in June? Given that they haven't leaked the figure yet, it stands to reason that whatever the number is, it must be high enough to leave them trailing Team Romney. Based on ad spending and what we know about the Obama campaign's fixed costs, I think that we can make an educated guess. During some weeks in June, the Obama campaign spent as much as $16 million in television advertising. All told, from what figures are publicly available, it seems reasonable to estimate that Obama's June ad spending totaled in the range of $50 million.
However, the Obama campaign's fixed expenses are also extremely high. With 700 employees, the campaign is spending at this point around $3 million a month in staff alone. In fact, at earlier points during this campaign, nearly half of Obama's spending was directed towards administrative expenses -- a reflection of a campaign infrastructure that was shaped during a period when they were anticipating raising more than $1 billion for the race. In other words, $60 million is probably a lowball estimate for Obama's June spending, leaving his campaign at a significant cash disadvantage versus the Romney campaign heading into July.
By way of comparison, at the end of June 2004, the Bush-Cheney campaign had $63 million in cash on hand to the Kerry campaign's $28 million. For the incumbent to be trailing the challenger by somewhere north of $40 million in cash at this stage of the campaign is a very worrisome thing.
This is especially true when one considers some of the other tea leaves. The inability of the Democratic convention to raise money and the resultant need to reduce the scale of the festivities is a prime example of what one would expect to see from a campaign in serious trouble.
It has often been remarked upon that Obama has already attended far more fundraisers than any of his predecessors. You can raise only so much money from holding dinners with George Clooney before all of your Hollywood-New York-San Francisco donors are maxed out. If the Obama campaign has another month like June or one that's just slightly worse, the situation for the campaign moves from concerning to dire.
If Romney raises another $100 million -- which, given his fundraising surge after the health care decision, he just might -- and Obama raises in the same range, then the former will have $260 million to spend over the month of July and the latter will have around $190 million. Assuming equal ad spending and accounting for the Obama campaign's much higher fixed expenses, let's say that Romney spends $65 million in July and Obama spends $70 million. At that point, you could have an Obama campaign looking into August -- and an onrushing general election campaign -- with an entirely insurmountable cash disadvantage.
Now, you can make a convincing argument that a president of sufficient rhetorical force might overcome challenging economic times and win an election. Politicians have been outspent before and won. But let's face it: a guy who is facing terrible economic numbers and who is getting outspent by tens of millions of dollars is going to lose even if he is the most convincing orator since Cicero -- which, to be blunt, this guy is not.
Consider the polls. Obama remains effectively tied with Romney in every major poll out in recent days -- Gallup, Rasmussen, ABC, CNN/Opinion Research, Washington Times -- in spite of the fact that the Obama campaign has massively outspent the Romney campaign so far, more or less flooding the airwaves in battleground states with campaign ads. The Romney campaign, while keeping its own powder dry, has been able to maintain parity through the assistance of outside groups, such as Crossroads GPS. I don't think that anyone expects, going forward, Republican Super-PACs and other outside groups to be outspent by Democratic ones, and as things stand today, it looks like the Obama campaign is going to blow what once seemed to be an unbeatable financial lead. Obama himself may well become the first incumbent in the modern era to be outspent, and by a large margin at that.
This does not mean, of course, that the election is over. With his chances of winning on the merits or through logistics blown, Obama has just one serious hope for re-election: he needs to find a way to deliver a knock-out blow against Mitt Romney that will lead a majority of Americans to conclude that he is unacceptable as a prospective president. For that reason alone, I am not particularly looking forward to the coming months, as I expect that the Obama campaign's attacks, already typically ugly and deceitful, will become increasingly hateful and shrill and that they will continue up until the last possible moment.
Nor should we rule out that, all other things having failed, Obama might use "the Chicago way" to muscle on through. After all, this is a man who -- together with his team -- won most of his elections not at the polls, but rather by disqualifying his opponents from the ballot and having divorce records mysteriously unsealed. The carefully coordinated attack against Governor Romney over his "Swiss bank accounts" will, I am certain, soon give way to darker insinuations perhaps both by the president and by his supporters. Perhaps, as we saw in 2008 with donations made to the campaign from unverified foreign credit cards, when they run out of legitimate money, the campaign will find new sources. We ought not forget the lessons of 2004, when Democratic operatives, with the collusion of parts of the mainstream media, sought to use forged documents to attack the character of President Bush in order to sway the election. They were stopped then only because the new media was ready, willing, and able to refute and respond to their lies. A cornered opponent is more dangerous than any other.
Adam Yoshida is a political commentator and the author of A Land War in Asia and the forthcoming A Thousand Points of Light.