GOP Money Problems Grow
Lost in the hubbub surrounding Super Tuesday was is the fact that late last week all of the presidential candidates -- and the various party campaign committees -- released their year-end fundraising figures.
From the presidential level to the congressional level, these numbers bode extremely poorly for Republicans already fighting a difficult national political environment because of continued public unhappiness with the war in Iraq and the state of the economy.
"It's a big deal," said one senior Republican fundraiser, granted anonymity to speak candidly, of the money gap at the congressional level. "With every retirement of a senior Republican in a swing district, the fundraising disparity becomes more and more of a problem." (Twenty-eight House Republicans have announced they are leaving Congress this year; just six Democrats have done the same.)
Let's start with the dash for cash in the presidential contest.
The two remaining Democratic candidates -- Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton (N.Y.) and Barack Obama -- each collected more than $100 million this year. Clinton led the way with $118 million in total receipts ($106 million from individuals) while Obama took in $104 million ($102 million from individuals.) Taken together, Clinton and Obama raised $222 million in 2007 with $208 million of that total coming from individuals.
Compare that total to that of the two best-funded candidates on the Republican side -- former governor Mitt Romney (Mass.) and former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani. Romney collected $90 million last year -- more than a third of which ($35 million) came from his own pocket. Take Romney's massive personal contribution out of his fundraising, however, and he has collected $53.5 million from individuals. Giuliani, who dropped from the race following a disappointing third place finish in Florida last week, raised $60 million total with $57.5 million of that coming from individual contributors. Add contributions to Romney and Giuliani together and you get $150 million -- not too shabby. Subtract Romney's personal donation, however, and the two best-financed Republicans together raised $111 million from individuals -- barely more than either Clinton or Obama collected on their own.
It's not just at the top where the disparity between Democratic and Republican presidential candidates exists, however. Sen. John McCain (Ariz.), who after tomorrow is likely to be the odds-on favorite for the GOP presidential nod, raised $40 million in 2007, a total that includes $36 million in individual contributions. That total is decidedly similar to the $44 million raised by former senator John Edwards (D-N.C.). (Edwards actually raised $35 million from individuals and took out a $9 million bank loan against the federal matching money he received by accepting public financing in the primaries.)
The rough financial equivalence between Edwards, long an also-ran in the Democratic primary money chase, and McCain, the newly-minted Republican frontrunner, speaks volumes.
The problem for the GOP extends far down the ballot.
Among the House campaign committees, the race for campaign cash is not even close. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee collected $67.5 million last year while the National Republican Congressional Committee raised $49.5 million.
Even worse for the NRCC: It outspent the DCCC by more than $10 million last year. At the end of the year, the
Democratic committee had $35 million in the bank -- seven times as much as the House Republicans had on hand.
"Over the last 5 years, the Speaker and House Democrats have worked aggressively to grow and broaden our grassroots, online, and member support," said DCCC spokesman Doug Thornell of his organization's cash collecting efforts. "Our success in 2007 was largely a function of this effort."
The numbers are not much better for Senate Republicans. At the close of 2007, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee -- led by known fundraising animal Charles E. Schumer (N.Y.) -- brought in $55.4 million and ended the year with more than $29 million in the bank.
The National Republican Senatorial Committee raised just short of $32 million in that same time period and closed the year with $12 million in the bank.
The lone bright spot for Republicans was the financial performance of the Republican National Committee. The RNC brought in $86 million in 2007 and ended the year with $17 million in the bank. The Democratic National Committee, on the other hand, raked in $55 million and closed the year with just $3 million in the bank.
What do all these numbers mean and how big a problem is the growing financial chasm for Republicans?
Money -- and donors' willingness to give it -- speaks to enthusiasm within the respective bases of the two parties. For much of the 1990s (and earlier this decade) Republicans enjoyed a huge fundraising edge thanks to excitement among activists and donors who helped propel GOPers to control of Congress and the White House during that time period.
By the 2006 elections, however, the both fundraising and political fortunes of the two parties had become reversed. For the first time in recent political history, the Democratic campaign committees were at parity with their Republican counterparts -- a money surge fueled by the base's unhappiness with the policies of President George W. Bush and the Republican-controlled Congress. That surge has continued in spades so far this cycle as anger at the president has grown even more fierce and the fight over the man (or woman) who will take his place has begun in earnest.
The impact on the presidential race will be, frankly negligible. In the 2004 election, Bush and Sen. John Kerry (Mass.), as well as groups advocating for them, spent hundreds of millions of dollars and neither side emerged with a clear spending advantage. The same scenario seems likely to come to pass in 2008 as the wide open race will almost assuredly lure donors small and large. No matter who winds up as the nominees of their respective parties, it's a near-certainty that they will have more than enough money to run the sort of national campaign we have grown accustomed to.
Down ballot races, however, could be seriously affected by the Republican financial shortfall.
In the 2006 election when House Republicans lost 30 seats and their majority, party strategists insisted it could have been far worse was it not for the NRCC's ability to come into a series of district and spend big bucks to ensure the election or re-election of a Republican candidate.
If the current financial disparity continues -- and there is absolutely no reason to think it won't -- endangered Republican incumbents will face a double money whammy: they won't enjoy the financial cover from the national party committees they have benefited from in recent years and they will likely have to endure heavy spending against them by national Democrats.
Add to that the fact that Republicans are retiring at both the House and Senate level at a far more rapid rate than their Democratic colleagues and it could well be a VERY difficult year to be a Republican running for Congress.
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