Thursday, June 17, 2004The Bush folks thought that money would be their ace in the hole. The plan was to bury the Democratic nominee in negative ads the moment he clinched the nomination, defining him as a flip-flopping peacenik lefty. It didn't matter who the Dems nominated. After all, money rules.
But it didn't work, and now Bush has spent that precious horde of funds with no evident result. Kerry still has a narrow lead and his negative, while higher, are not in the dangerous range. Part of this is because Kerry just doesn't come off as a left-wing wacko. Part of it is because Bush's ads were drowned out by bad news from Iraq.
But the other reason that Kerry is still alive is that he managed to keep up with Bush. The crucial breathing space after the nomination was sown up was the moment of his greatest danger, and he had to spend the next several months generating his own war chest. That moment in time didn't turn out to be disastrous because independent Democratic groups filled the liberal void and blunted Bush's message. Some reporting has expressed concern that the liberal groups have already spent all their money, so are now going to be less effective. My response is that it doesn't matter so much- they have fulfilled their function already.
Now Kerry is raising an extraordinary amount of money, in fact out-raising Bush. Now he partly has to do this because Bush is being nominated a month later than Kerry, giving him more time to raise and spend money before public financing kicks in for the general. But it is still a remarkable feat, driven mostly I believe by hatred for George Bush. Whatever the cause, I am pleased to see that the Democrats are finally building a small donor base, something the Republicans created thirty years ago. The internet has helped too. Overall, I have never seen such an aggressive Democratic fundraising effort- I get a call or mailing almost every day. So we can be fairly confident that Kerry will stay competitive in the ad war, shifting the focus to campaign strategy rather than money.
All of this money news raises what I believe are two issues, one short-term and one long-term. The short-term issue is whether Kerry is sucking up all the Democratic money, which will put our congressional candidates at a disadvantage. We'll have to see. The long-term issue is the more worrisome- our politics has been to reduced to little more than quarterly FEC reports, devoid of any substantive policy content or even campaign strategy. It makes you miss the old days of horserace coverage.
No wonder voters think politics is boring.