During 2012’s primary campaign, one presidential candidate has bought more advertising, hired more people and spent more on a grassroots organization than any other White House hopeful.
If money is ammunition in politics, President Barack Obama so far is outgunning all the Republicans vying to challenge him, building a national network of staff and volunteers even while he’s unopposed for the Democratic nomination.
Through Jan. 31, the Obama campaign’s payroll spending was more than twice the total for the four remaining Republican candidates combined. With the general election still more than eight months away, Obama’s re-election committee has spent $66 million overall, almost 20 percent more than the $56 million outlay by the best-financed Republican, former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney.
“In a word, ‘infantry,’” said Steffen W. Schmidt, a political science professor at Iowa State University in Ames. “They are putting in place ground troops in key swing states and ramping up the small-donor and Internet fundraising.”
The Obama campaign is “building the largest grassroots campaign in history,” said Ben LaBolt, a spokesman. “The Republicans have made a decision not to invest in a ground-up, grassroots organization like the president has, and we believe that our supporters reaching out to their networks will provide us with a decisive edge in November.”
Since the president announced he would seek re-election last April, the Obama campaign spent $14.4 million on advertising through Jan. 31, including $9.3 million online and $2 million for television commercials. Obama devoted $17.1 million to payroll, almost four times the $4.6 million that Romney spent through Jan. 31.
“It makes strategic sense for the Obama campaign to rev-up to full speed and hone its operation now before the sturm-und-drang of the general election starts,” said Tobe Berkovitz, a communication professor at Boston University. “The Democratic team will have had months working together when the general election begins.”
Spending on presidential and congressional races this year may break $6 billion, at least $700 million more than the record expenditures of 2008, according to an estimate by Sheila Krumholz, executive director of the Center for Responsive Politics, a Washington research group that tracks political spending
A wild card in the 2012 campaign is the presence of so-called super-PACs, the political action committees that can take corporate and union contributions and spend unlimited amounts on advertising.
Obama has been investing much of his campaign committee’s money in on-the-ground political operations.
In New Hampshire, a swing state in November’s balloting, Obama had set up seven offices in January while Romney, who won the Republican primary, had one. Though he was unopposed for the Democratic nomination, the Obama campaign had thousands of volunteers in the state and approximately 20 paid staff members, including a digital director and a field director. Obama won the state over Republican nominee John McCain in 2008.
In six other states, Obama began running ads in January. The spots ran 6,190 times combined in Iowa, Michigan, North Carolina, Ohio, Virginia and Wisconsin -- according to New York-based Kantar Media/CMAG, a company that tracks advertising. They cost the campaign $2 million.
“Advertisements can serve many purposes, including encouraging supporters to join the campaign’s organization,” LaBolt said.
The ads are continuing to air. One commercial in Michigan, which ran as Republicans were campaigning for Feb. 28’s primary, praised Obama for providing government aid to automakers General Motors Co. and Chrysler Group LLC.
“Every Republican candidate turned their back, even said let Detroit go bankrupt,” the narrator said. “Not him.”
The early spending is also designed to help Obama overcome dissension in the ranks as his campaign begins reaching out long before Election Day to voters upset with the president’s actions, said Linda Fowler, a professor of government at Dartmouth College in Hanover, New Hampshire.
The campaign is “dealing with disgruntlement in the base, people who are angry that Guantanamo hasn’t been closed, people who had probably unrealistic expectations about what a president can accomplish in this highly polarized environment,” she said.
Obama’s eventual Republican opponent still may get an advertising edge from outside groups. A pro-Romney political action committee, Restore Our Future, raised $6.6 million in January. American Crossroads, the PAC advised by Karl Rove, who was chief political adviser to President George W. Bush, raised $5.1 million. Republican consultant Carl Forti is political director of American Crossroads and a board member of Restore Our Future.
Their combined total of $11.7 million is almost 200 times more than the pro-Obama super-PAC, Priorities USA Action, which raised $58,816 in the same period. Last month, Obama campaign manager Jim Messina said administration officials would start helping to raise money for the PAC.
The official campaign organizations for Obama and Romney have each spent about $12 million to pay for their campaigns’ fundraising efforts, including direct mail and telemarketing. For Obama, those expenditures have helped bring in $140 million for his campaign; Romney has raised almost $64 million.
“That is what incumbents can do,” said Julian Zelizer, a professor of history and public affairs at Princeton University in New Jersey.
“They can raise the kind of cash that opponents struggle to pull together,” he said. “With that money, they can try to define the candidates and the issues while the opposition is still figuring out who will run. By the time the Republican convention takes place, the president will have already helped shape public perceptions about who will challenge him.”