Obama First President Outspent in His Re-election Campaign

Mitt Romney will likely be the first challenger able to outspend a sitting president. He'll need it.

Taegan Goddard highlights President Obama’s fundraising appeal that ”I will be the first president in modern history to be outspent in his re-election campaign.”

Now, obviously, he’s saying this in hopes that it won’t be true. Or, at least, less true than it otherwise might be. He urges potential donors , “We can be outspent and still win — but we can’t be outspent 10 to 1 and still win.”

That’s probably true, but only because it’s likely to be a very close election.  While rich people like Mike Bloomberg and Jon Corzine got themselves elected on the strength of pouring lots of their own money into advertising, well funded candidates from Ross Perot to Phil Gramm to Carly Fiorina and Meg Whitman to Newt Gingrich and Donald Trump have gone down in flames. Still, there’s no doubt that having more money is better than not having enough.

Moreover, the fact that no incumbent president has ever been outspent in a re-election campaign strikes me as much more problematic than the notion that one might be, even if it’s mostly a function of a few billionaire geezers throwing their fortune into the campaign. Incumbents already have a tremendous advantage in terms of name recognition, free media, and simple inertia. That they should also have a bigger warchest–largely a function of people wanting to curry favor with the sitting president–seems unsporting at best.

I had never heard of Sheldon Adelson and several other fat cat donors who have taken advantage of SuperPACs and the demolition of the silly line between “issue advocacy” and outright campaign donations until this election cycle. Some of them strike me as unsavory and, while I absolutely believe that they should have the right to spend their money on political speech, I’m not unconcerned that the ability to do so gives them an outsized voice in the process.

But it seems to me that the old game was worse. In 2008, Obama far outraised and outspent John McCain. Partly, that was a function of Obama’s personal magnetism and a fundraising team that was ahead of its time. Partly, it was a function of McCain being an uninspiring candidate and the Republican Party being in the doldrums after eight years of Bush. But there was another factor: it was clearly Obama was the favorite and people wanted to bet on a winner and reap the rewards that come with that.

Obama remains the favorite to win this cycle. While he no longer has the rock star appeal he did last cycle, people still like him and he remains a very strong candidate. Nor is Mitt Romney exactly inspiring people. And America’s default position is to re-elect their presidents.

Against all that, an even financial playing field means that Obama would coast to re-election absent another shock to the economy that reduces public confidence that things are getting better. Having enough money to flood the airwaves with commercials to get his message out is Romney’s best hope of overcoming inertia.

FILED UNDER: Campaign 2012, US Politics
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is a Security Studies professor at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Tsar Nicholas says:

    Against all that, an even financial playing field means that Obama would coast to re-election absent another shock to the economy that reduces public confidence that things are getting better

    .

    Hmm. You mean besides the existing and ongoing shock to the economy of high unemployment, terrible job growth, rising layoffs, a contracting workforce and extraordinarily weak income and wage growth?

    In any case, I always get a kick out of references to partisan splits in funding and spending. They never factor in two giant donkeys in the room.

    What’s the dollar value of non-cash union activities, e.g., of shop stewards instructing their charges to go and vote for the Democrat? What’s the dollar value of the mass media’s biased news coverages? Think of the latter point along these lines: What would the comparative results of this or of any national election be if NBC, CBS and ABC were like Fox and vice-versa, and if the dozens upon dozens of liberal newsrags out there were like the Washington Times and vice-versa?

  2. LaMont says:

    But it seems to me that the old game was worse. In 2008, Obama far outraised and outspent John McCain. Partly, that was a function of Obama’s personal magnetism and a fundraising team that was ahead of its time. Partly, it was a function of McCain being an uninspiring candidate and the Republican Party being in the doldrums after eight years of Bush. But there was another factor: it was clearly Obama was the favorite and people wanted to bet on a winner and reap the rewards that come with that.

    I’m having trouble understanding exactly how “the old game” was worse. Before, people still had to agree with a candidate’s sentiments before everyone else jumped on the bandwagon. And as more people jump on the banwagon more people began to put their money where their mouth was. I don’t think President Obama was outspending Hillary Clinton in the early stages of their primary. You may call it a bet but the PEOPLE still made the decision as the money, in what was a more level paying field, reaffirmed on the backend who the PEOPLE wanted into office. Money established the candidate but only after the candidate made his/her case first. The money was the microphone the PEOPLE gave to the candidate after they made their choice.

    Now, we have a guy in Romney who nobody in the republican primary really wanted but money still established. Heck, money alone gave Gingrich a fighting chance. Now, the cart has been placed in front of the horse. Corporations, or should I now say “people”, have the biggest part of the pie and the money a candidate can raise no longer reflects what the PEOPLE may support. It completely undermines the democratic process.

    How could you agree with the Supreme Court’s decision and disagree with the decision’s repercussions? It is not like this issue has blindsided us. We all knew the affect that decision would have on campaigns way before campaigning season began.

  3. al-Ameda says:

    Thank you, Citizens United. Finally conservative multi-millionaires, billionaires and conservative PACs will be heard. Too often they’ve been denied a voice in our national elections.

    It was about time that we recognized that money cannot cause the appearance of corruption, money causes the appearance of free speech.

  4. Rob in CT says:

    What’s the dollar value of non-cash union activities, e.g., of shop stewards instructing their charges to go and vote for the Democrat?

    And the value of preachers doing the same for the GOP (usually they are careful enough to simply rail against librulism, rather than say vote GOP or vote against the Dems)? I, for one, would gladly trade the one for the other (just in terms of electoral potency. Not for real…).

    As to the issue… it’s a bit like the Yankees (I’m a Yankees fan). Does their financial prowess directly translate into winning the WS? Well, no. They still have to spend the money on good players. But the money helps. A contract that would be a killer for a poorer team can be absorbed. One idiot owner can end-around your GM and go out and spend $45MM/3yrs on a 1-inning relief pitcher (Rafael Soriano) and not have it prevent the team from making other moves (and then have it really come in handy when Mariano Rivera blows out his knee two years later). The money ain’t everything, but it helps quite a bit. And in MLB, there are some leveling mechanisms in play (the draft, particularly now with hard-slotting, the luxury tax, the fact that players are not free agents from the get-go, revenue sharing…).

    In the end, I despise the status quo (and think CU made things worse), but cannot come up with a solution that I think preserves free speech and actually accomplishes anything. I’m at the throw-up-my-hands-in-frustration point.

  5. Vast Variety says:

    If I ever win the lottery the first thing on my shopping list for my new found millions will be a President.He’ll look great sitting on the mantal above the fireplace.

    /end sarcasm.

    Unlimited money by individuals in campaign politics is something I can live with. It’s the hiding of those donnations by funnelling them through super pac’s, 501’s, and corporations that bothers me. Money in politics is fine, hiding it is not. If your going to exserice your right to free speech have the spine to put your face to your words.

  6. Moosebreath says:

    “If I ever win the lottery the first thing on my shopping list for my new found millions will be a President.He’ll look great sitting on the mantal above the fireplace.”

    That goes well with the joke that Romney is running for President to check it off his bucket list.