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In politics, success equals money

Commentator David Frum

TEXT OF COMMENTARY

Kai Ryssdal: John McCain and Barack Obama seem to have settled right into their general election campaign groove, bashing each other on the issue of the day. This week, it's the economy.

Commentator David Frum says the economy of this year's campaign is going to have lasting political effects.


David Frum: Barack Obama has proven himself the most successful fundraiser in American political history. As of the end of April, he had received more than $270 million in donations. Hillary Clinton had raised not quite $220 million. John McCain, not even $100 million.

Having raised almost three times as much money as McCain, Obama has placed almost nine times as many TV ads.

OK, well, Obama had to wage a primary race stretching into June while McCain clinched his nomination months ago. So maybe McCain's conserving cash and keeping his powder dry?

Up to a point, yes, but despite the bruising internal Democratic struggle, Obama ended the month of April with twice as much cash on hand as McCain.

The Grand Old Party is a massive hierarchical organization that has always taken for granted an ability to mobilize more resources than its opponents -- like the U.S. Army or Microsoft or the New York Yankees.

But in 2004, the Democrats equaled Republicans in fundraising and this year, the Dems have pulled far ahead.

A Republican presidential campaign under fundraising constraints is like the Yankees under a salary cap: It does not make a very convincing scrappy little underdog.

Where did the Republicans' money go? Historically, the Democrats relied on comparatively few big donors on the East and West coasts, while the Republicans relied on small dollar gifts obtained from hot button issue direct mail. But as the Republicans have lost their way, they have lost their small donor base and many of the big donors give only when they expect a candidate to win and return the favor. For these self-interested donors, an investment in the GOP looks only marginally more attractive than Countrywide stock.

Back when the Republicans were dominant, many Democrats attributed the GOP's success to its financial clout. One lesson of this remarkable year: yes, political money is necessary to political success, but it's also true that political success produces political money.


Ryssdal: David Frum is a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute. His latest book is called "Comeback: Conservatism That Can Win Again."

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