Most of the candidates running for the White House reported in Monday with their first-quarter fundraising numbers. What do these numbers — with Hillary Clinton and Mitt Romney out front — mean? National Rreview Online asked a group of political observers.
The $26 million that Hillary Clinton raised in the first quarter is not as newsy as the double that was raised against her in the Democratic primary. Practically speaking, a dollar for Obama, or Edwards, or Richardson is a dollar bet (or hope) against Hillary. One report estimated that 100,000 people have ponied up for Obama. Those folks have guts to publicly defy the Clinton machine, and I’d suspect 2 of the 100,000 even knew who Obama-the-undistinguished-state-senator was five years ago. Obama’s money comes from folks who are excited, not obligated. And plenty of the Clinton stash was given because of Bill, not Hill.
Governor Romney’s showing is most impressive, and caught the MSM by surprise since they are obsessed with his hair and religion. Mayor Giuliani and Senator McCain issued respectable totals, especially since each is blessed with the coveted “special” and “different” characteristics (albeit for different reasons) that currently make enough GOP primary voters excuse, ignore or forget some of their non-conservative stands.
The real test is the second quarter, after one’s rolodex has been exhausted and intimates maxed out. Sustained buzzability and a credible charge that “you can win” will affect fundraising. Excitement begets money, allowing new candidates who have big names and long resumes to generate both come the fall when the current field will be attacked for seeming boring and unimaginative. Money is important, but not necessarily determinative. Short of buying YouTube, it won’t help Messrs. Romney and Giuliani erase those disturbing clips that could double as Planned Parenthood ads. And a billion dollars will not enable Hillary to become Black or become Bill Clinton.
– Kellyanne Conway is president and CEO of the polling company, inc.
A Roman emperor supposedly had a slave whose job it was to whisper in his ear that all glory was fleeting. The candidates in the 2008 cycle should employ a staffer to whisper “Phil Gramm.”
I remember covering a Gramm dinner early in the 1996 cycle which raised a _illion dollars (fill in the first consonant), which Gramm, in his inimitable flattened armadillo accent, called “yewer best friend in pol ticks.” Gramm raised a lot of illions, but there were better friends to have: Supporters willing to go to the polls. He was humiliated in the early going by Pat Buchanan, who succumbed in time to Bob Dole, who lost to Bill Clinton.
I see signs of Grammism in Senator Clinton’s campaign now. Her husband will get a hard work out over the next year — not to raise money, but to dispense the charm that may motivate voters on her behalf.
– Richard Brookhiser is a senior editor of National Review and author of What Would the Founders Do?: Our Questions, Their Answers.
Every story today predicts “this will be the most expensive presidential campaign in history.” So what? Spending on presidential campaigns depends a lot on economic growth and incumbency advantage. Americans are a lot wealthier now. If they spend the same proportion of their income on contributions as in the past, every election will be the most expensive in history. In a presidential race lacking an incumbent, many people believe they might be president and raise money to that end. But money isn’t everything. Hillary has raised $36 million but looks like an uncertain frontrunner. Obama may be the right man with the right aura at the right time. On the GOP side, Mitt Romney has lots of money and less support than Fred Thompson who once supported campaign-finance restrictions for all candidates who do not star on a network crime drama. John McCain has been undone by the regulation of money in politics. Republican primary voters just don’t like him or his BCRA, and however much money he raises will not change that. First quarter fundraising tells us things we already know. We are wealthier than in the past. We have competitive presidential nomination contests. Money matters less than people think.
– John Samples is director of the Center for Representative Government at the Cato Institute and author of The Fallacy of Campaign Finance Reform.
John J. Pitney Jr.
In pondering the campaign-finance numbers, think of Ada Mills.
During his 1980 campaign for the Republican nomination, former Texas governor John Connally spent $11 million, the equivalent of $27 million today. But while the sum was staggering for its time, it couldn’t buy Connally out of his problems. He had been close both to Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon — deadweight names after Vietnam and Watergate. His acquittal in a bribery case hadn’t erased the memory of his indictment. And he had to face Ronald Reagan.
For all his money, Connally won a grand total of one delegate: Mrs. Mills, of Clarksville, Arkansas.
The moral is that money does not mean political success. Connally deepened his woes by failing to develop a coherent strategy and frittering away resources.
So while it’s important to see how much candidates raise, it’s more important to ask how much they spend and what they spend it on. Are they picking targets carefully? Are they investing in effective advertising and get-out-the vote operations? Or are they blowing their cash on top-heavy campaign organizations and harebrained tactics?
When we know the answers, we’ll know who could be president and who will be a one-delegate wonder.
– John J. Pitney Jr. is Roy P. Crocker Professor of American Politics at Claremont McKenna College.
I am a gut prognosticator. I am always happy to listen to people with complicated theories about percentiles of this and that, and projections out to whatever election. But for most candidates, it’s essentially binary: He can win or he can’t, and the zeitgeist is blowing for him or against.
Money is not just any old number, of course. It is a vote of sorts. And it theoretically can be turned into more votes later. Though not always, as my favorite president, Phil Gramm might warn.
Money, especially primary donations, is an artificial vote. First of all, only the rich give. Most people have something better to do with $2300. And rich political types are usually either hobbyists, or people with some interest for which they want political protection. Their instincts aren’t the same as most voters. Furthermore, there is no way to measure how many people gave more than once — to Hillary and Obama, or McCain and Giuliani, to hedge their bets, and maintain social alliances.
So, these first-quarter numbers tell us disparate things. Mitt Romney’s $23 mill tells us that he has a very good fundraising operation. Still, I don’t think he can be elected. Not because he is Mormon, because he is too much like the Bush dynasty.
Hillary’s 26 million ratifies our knowledge that she is the frontrunner and she has a very tight grip on many party donors. No news there.
Rudy’s 15 million says — I can do it, but I may be a candidate of voters, not donors.
Obama’s unreleased numbers will say the same as Rudy’s.
John Edwards’s 14 million doesn’t matter. He isn’t electable.
Finally, I keep thinking about the tortoise and the hare. The winners will be the candidates who can pace themselves, and whose strengths are most relevant in November of 2008. This frenetic quarter tells us nothing about that.
— Lisa Schiffren is a former speechwriter for Vice President Dan Quayle.