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« Morning Thoughts: Granite Status | Blog Home Page | First Stop: Red Arrow »

Money Troubles

As Blake notes today, with the fundraising quarter ending this weekend, campaigns are getting heavily involved in the expectations game. Money numbers make for excellent news copy, and the mainstream media has its own questions for which they will seek answers. Among them:

-- How big will the drop-off be? One campaign spokesman said recently that the third quarter is an historically bad time to raise money. It's the summer, everyone's on vacation. But when $100 million was raised, by Democrats alone, during the first six months, we should still see some pretty big numbers. Low-hanging fruit is gone, the big donors have maxed out, and even bundlers not named Hsu are running out of friends to call.

-- Who wins the Democratic expectations game? Clinton's camp expects to hit between $17-20 million, while putting Obama's numbers at a probably unreachable $30 million. If Obama outraises Clinton for a second quarter in a row (third, if you don't count the $10 million Clinton transfered over from her Senate account), will more people begin to buy the idea of a long campaign that stretches into late February or even March?

-- Can either John McCain or Mike Huckabee impress enough to get on a few more radar screens? (See the NYT for top-notch analysis) McCain's disappointing -- to say the least -- second quarter cash-on-hand number has to come way up, while Huckabee's strong showing at the straw poll in Ames means expectations are on him to top the seven-figure mark for the quarter, something he hasn't done yet.

-- Whither Fred Thompson? Missing fundraising expectations in his first month of campaigning hurt, and worked to tamp down the myth of Thompson as knight in shining armor. Does he have to come in third, behind Rudy Giuliani and Mitt Romney, to stay relevant? Or should we all start buying the Thompson to withdraw contract at RCP's Fantasy '08? Thompson does have a big upside, though. He's scheduled five fundraisers in Tennessee, and while, as mentioned above, other candidates have exhausted their low-hanging fruit, Thompson's still got plenty ripe for the picking. While other candidates have down quarters, Thompson's could be decidedly impressive, especially by comparison.

-- How much lighter will Mitt Romney's wallet be? The former Massachusetts governor gave his campaign about $9 million in the first half of the year, including $6 million in the second quarter to pay for early advertisements. Will he continue to dip into his personal reserves to give himself a big leg up, or is he waiting for the fourth quarter, when he can do so more efficiently to react to a rapidly-changing situation?

-- Who's got the final leg up? Cash on hand, as AP's Jim Kuhnhenn writes, is the number to watch. The campaigns have just three months to go before the first nominating contests, and while several have run their first ads (Kuhnhenn reports the Democratic Iowa numbers: Obama, $2.7 million so far; Clinton, $1 million; Richardson, $2 million), everyone starts the cash dump pretty soon. Media buyers, beware: Your phones will be ringing off the hook.

-- Who is thinking strategically about responses? Some campaigns are going to have to go very negative to cut down their rivals. If campaigns have the money to hold back, might McCain save an ad defending his immigration record? What about Romney fighting off the very word "Massachusetts"? Thompson not remembering Terri Schiavo? Perhaps the biggest challenge is Giuliani's: He's got to deal with GOP voters' anger when they hear about his record on gays, abortions and guns (especially now that the NRA is considering getting involved in the GOP primary). Of course, this question isn't answered by 3rd quarter FEC numbers alone, but outlines will begin to form.

Candidates are laying low lately, making the mad dash for cash in the final days before the quarter ends. How they answer the questions above may well determine who's still raising money in the first quarter of 2008, and who's simply trying to get rid of debt.