US Presidential Election 2012

Obama, Romney entered final weeks flush with cash

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 04 November, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 04 November, 2012, 3:21am

The final weeks of a US presidential election used to be a time of hard choices for cash-strapped campaign strategists.

Not this year.

Having rejected public financing, which would have imposed spending limits, President Barack Obama, his Republican challenger Mitt Romney and their parties entered the final 20 days of the race with a combined US$293 million on hand.

Their sizeable cash reserves represent a sharp departure from past White House contests and altered the way the campaigns plotted their strategies - and their final advertising buys - in the last stretch of the race.

It is a far cry from the 2000 race, when - 17 days before the election - Democratic strategist Tad Devine concluded that Al Gore's campaign had to yank its adverts off the air in Ohio to concentrate on Florida.

"One had to go," Devine recalled wistfully.

That was because Gore had agreed to accept public financing, giving him just US$67.5 million to spend in the general election.

In 2008, Obama became the first presidential candidate to decline general-election public funding and its accompanying spending cap - a move that allowed him to outspend rival John McCain by US$285 million.

The huge imbalance set the stage for both candidates in this year's campaign to reject public funding, triggering a financial arms race. Together with their parties, Obama and Romney are on track to raise US$2 billion.

By October 17, the Republican challenger and his affiliated party committees had US$169 million on hand, while the Democratic incumbent and his party allies held nearly US$125 million.

Obama, however, held more money directly in his campaign committee, the result of raising a larger share in small donations. Since only candidates get the lowest market rate for television advertisements, that has helped Obama maintain a bigger presence on the air than Romney, who has relied on outside groups to make up the difference.

Both candidates have kept pressing for cash, sending out urgent e-mails as late as Friday.

The bulk of their money is going to buy more airtime. By Monday, nearly 1.1 million commercials had already run on broadcast and national cable television - 39 per cent more than during the same period in 2008, according to a study released on Friday by the Wesleyan Media Project, which analyses data from the advert-tracking firm Kantar Media/CMAG.

The air assault has intensified as election day nears, with 309,000 adverts airing just between October 1 and 29, the project found.

During the week beginning October 22, Obama's campaign spent US$26 million on national cable and broadcast television adverts, while Romney and the Republican National Committee spent nearly US$14 million.