4.26.2008

Obama's financial edge deployed on the upcoming states

With every single one of the upcoming primaries crucial for Hillary Clinton's chances to score an upset, Obama has a major weapon at his disposal that is likely to prevent her from getting the type of victory she needs to truly change the game: nearly unlimited funds.

Obama massively outspent his opponent in Ohio and Pennsylvania but fell short in both contests, prompting speculation that his financial edge was not being put to good use. But it looks undeniable that Obama could have suffered much more damaging losses without the spending; in both states, he somewhat closed the gap and avoided the worst margins some polls suggested he might have to settle for. Also, his PA outreach efforts among white blue-collar voters no doubt played a major role in holding Clinton's numbers to where they were in OH, despite Wright and bittergate coming in between.

In other words, massive overspending might not be enough to win Obama elections, but they are certainly enough to make it impossible for Clinton to score the victories she needs. Now, Clinton is confronted with the same problem in the upcoming contests: In Indiana, the polls suggest a very tight race and it will be hard for Clinton to pull ahead and score a double-digit victory given the financial condition of the campaigns. In places like Kentucky and West Virginia, Clinton has the potential of scoring gigantic victories of the kind she has rarely enjoyed, but it will be hard for her to meet that potential without financial parity.

Fully enjoying his edge, Obama will be on air in every single upcoming contest including Puerto Rico starting next week, offsetting some of the early advantage Clinton has in some of these primaries like Puerto Rico's. Obama supporters might worry that this constitutes a waste of money considering that the cash would be better spent against McCain -- but there are at least a few states that will be general election hotspots (Oregon, West Virginia, North Carolina, the Obama campaign might even add Montana), giving Obama a head-start in introducing himself relative to McCain.

This is the same question we faced in Pennsylvania: Will the candidates' prolonged exposure in front of Democratic voters help their numbers contra McCain or will they emerge bruised and damaged? A few polls (Strategic Vision, Rasmussen) show that McCain has picked up ground in recent weeks in the Keystone state. But the campaign ended on a very sour note in Pennsylvania -- one that will not truly have time to take hold in any of the upcoming states. There is much more potential for negativity in a 6-week campaign than 2 weeks divided between 2 states. Thus, I still don't see the fact that Obama is being forced to run ads in NC, WV and OR now as a problem -- quite the contrary.

Meanwhile, Hillary Clinton's choices of spending also reveal plenty about her campaign strategy: Now that her fundraising has picked up since her win in Pennsylvania, Clinton had some money to use again, enabling her to contest the May 6th primaries (something that she was not sure she could financially just a few days ago). And the campaign has chosen to spend heavily on advertisements in North Carolina. This seems to be surprising some who are commenting that Obama is the clear favorite in NC but, as I argued on Thursday, NC could be even more dangerous than IN for Clinton. A large loss or Obama making inroads among white and blue-collar voters would deal as powerful a blow to her comeback narrative as anything could. Clinton's choice to heavily invest here at least points to the fact that (1) she now has enough money to go beyond Indiana, and (2) her confidence that she can at least keep this race in single-digits.

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