Are Democrats Waking Up To Their Super PAC Troubles?

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
June 27 2012 11:27 AM

Are Democrats Waking Up To Their Super PAC Troubles?

Molly Ball has a sharp look at the likelihood that Dems will get heavily outspent in this election, a sharp contrast with 2008, when Barack Obama's campaign raised $750 million and blew John McCain out of the water. But after the failed Wisconsin recall and some eye-popping Republican fundraising totals, Democrats finally seem to realize they're in trouble:

Republicans will likely pour most of their spending into television ads, an effort Democrats believe they can combat on the cheap with a robust grassroots effort. (The air war vs. ground game issue is the subject of lively and perpetual debate in Democratic circles, with some fretting that a fetish for field organization leads the left to underfund the equally vital work of a blitz of nasty TV commercials.) But that will only work to a point, he said.

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"We expect that the candidates we support will be outspent, but if they're outspent 7-to-1 across the board in November, then this is not the America of the last 200 years," Podhorzer said. "If that happens on a national scale, this is really not a democracy anymore."

To Republicans, who watched Obama raise and spend more than twice as much as John McCain did in 2008, Democrats' whining that all this money is somehow unfair is rather rich. "The president's team was hoping for a repeat of 2008, when financial muscle made it possible to spread out the battlefield and make a (successful) play for more states," Rove gloated in a recent Wall Street Journal column. "That won't happen this time."

(snip)

For Burton, the Obama super PAC strategist, it is something of a relief to see Democrats finally start to realize how dire their financial situation is. Priorities raised $4 million in May, its best haul to date and a near-match for Restore Our Future's $5 million. Thus far in June, the group has already beaten that number, Burton said, as events like Wisconsin make Democratic donors increasingly aware of the threat they're facing.

To be sure, money isn't everything. After all, when George W. Bush ran for re-election in 2004, Democratic power donors poured "soft money" into 527s, outside groups not all that different from Super PACs. These groups ran ads in battleground states and organized field campaigns that were supposed to help overcome the advantages of an incumbent president. That didn't happen.

But convincing some of those same donors to embrace Super PACs -- or at least tolerate them -- will be vital to Democrats' staying competitive on the television airwaves. Priorities' June fundraising suggests that may be happening.

Matt Taylor is a reporter living in Brooklyn. He was the political correspondent for the National Memo and a staff reporter at his hometown newspaper, The East Hampton Star. He's a contributor to Newsweek/The Daily Beast. You can reach him on Twitter @matthewt_ny

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