Saturday, March 12, 2011

Campaign 2012: Help Wanted


A decision from the Supreme Court of the United States is now de facto law, never mind the de jure part: The Campaign Strategists, Consultants and Analysts Full Employment Act of 2010 (otherwise known as the Citizens United v. FEC ruling) is in effect.

From Jan. 21, 2010 — the day that ruling was announced, effectively placing citizens and corporations on the same existential footing with respect to campaign donations — it was thought that the SCOTUS decision would be a canary in a coal mine for determining the intrusion of deep-pocketed corporate donors in presidential politics. Some new and recent estimates from various sources are telling us just how bad it may be about to get.

According to one estimate reported early this week by Bloomberg News, total campaign spending for the 2012 races will be between $4 billion and $4.5 billion, about 38 percent above the $2.5 billion to $3 billion spent in the 2008 presidential race.

But get ready to drop your jaw a little lower. Those figures may be lowballing both the money anticipated next year and the money actually raised in 2008. Late last year, Katy Bachman at Brandweek reported a preliminary estimate from PQ Media indicating that “political media spending will hit $5.6 billion during the 2012 election—a 25 percent boost over 2010 and a 35 percent jump from the last presidential election in 2008.”

What Bloomberg’s Juliana Goldman called a “campaign stimulus program” will apparently be as close to a bipartisan experience as there’s been on Capitol Hill since … the last presidential derby. Goldman reported that the campaign for President Obama hopes to raise $1 billion for the 2012 contest, about 25 percent more than the mindblowing $750 million it generated in 2008.

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Goldman, citing other sources, said the Republicans hope to raise about the same amount. But while the estimates for Democrats coalesce around a known quantity — the man in the White House right now — estimates that the GOP will raise the amount have to be highly fungible assumptions.

Campaign donations are the most visceral and immediate evidence of the galvanizing passion, the emotional support that people have for a candidate. Without knowing who that candidate will be on the Republican side, to say nothing of how enthusiastically the base will support that candidate, that billion-dollar calculation is a highly conditional guess.

The Republican fortunes for 2012 are gathering around a handful of possibles, none of which has formally declared. Each has problems that might not get them out of the primary season, much less into the velocity of the general election campaign.

Newt Gingrich, the former House Speaker and once & future flamethrower for the hard conservative right, has doubled down on a bid to conflate the GOP’s usual cultural values aspect with a call to fiscal morality, and the need to make budgetary decisions based on a moralistic code (one that apparently the Bush White House wasn’t bound to respect).

But Gingrich, three times married, has his own problems. As a serially married man (he pressed divorce matters on his first wife while she was recovering from uterine cancer surgery) and someone suspected of extramarital dalliances, Gingrich has serious cultural-values issues. The word “baggage” scarcely expresses the amount of freight the Newt 2012 campaign plane would have to deal with from day one.

Mike Huckabee, the former Arkansas governor and Krispy Kreme enthuisiast (whose recent girth suggest he may have fallen off that dietary wagon) is also on the short list of possibles, but he may not be much better.

Huckabee’s recent embarrassing Obama = Muslim dogwhistle to the birthers and a sanctimonious cheap shot at Natalie Portman for her pregnancy out of wedlock are blatant pitches to the evangelicals and rural voters, cohorts that may help him in the primary season but whose numbers aren’t expendable in a general election. Unless the country develops a taste for putting Elmer Gantry in the White House, his appeal won’t break through.

The name of Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour has been tossed around a lot. Barbour, bless his heart, might win the nomination, but a victory in the general election isn’t happening. Recent missteps, including some about Southern history and African Americans’ place in that history, are just some of the reasons why.

There are others: Tim Pawlenty, former governor of Minnesota, Jon Huntsman, the former U.S. ambassador to China (in the Obama administration); Rick Santorum, former Pennsylvania senator; Sarah Palin, the tireless political personality. Rudy Giuliani may make another run at it. New York City mayor Mike Bloomberg could get into this, despite his denials. And God help us, even Donald Trump has been making candidate noises recently.

That’s why any billion-dollar fundraising forecast for the GOP is premature. They may need to raise that much to stay competitive, but until the blizzard of speculative names is winnowed down in the months to come, it’s not a lock that they will. Raising a billion dollars in donations may not be a lock even then; it’s hard to imagine everyday Republicans and independents standing in line to open their wallets to fund a 2012 campaign for Bloomberg (2011 net worth: $18.1 billion).

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The forecast for online political ads is a little more certain. Bloomberg’s Goldman quoted an estimate from Borrell Associates, a media and marketing research firm, that forecasts about $100 million will be spent on online political ads in 2012, with social media utilities like Facebook and Twitter expected to take in between $30 million and $35 million.

The online ads estimate includes money to be spent by such progressive grassroots organizations as MoveOn.org. But that estimate came out right before the now-successful power grab by Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and Wisconsin Republicans; their vote to strip public workers of collective bargaining rights, and similar actions contemplated by other states, will certainly make MoveOn and other grassroots groups beat the bushes even more aggressively for donations from the Democrats that form their core of support.

It’s early yet, but what’s known for sure is that whoever the final contestants are, huge amounts of money will be spent not only on the campaigners but also on the supporting cast.

Just like a professional sports team generates income not only for itself but also for the sports bars and hotels near the stadium, a presidential campaign supports various required satellite industries. (We’d love to know the presidential campaign-dollar multiplier effect — how many dollars spent directly on a campaign are regenerated elsewhere in a local economy.)

Consultancy, punditry, analysis, book publishing — they’ve all got more of a stake in the campaign than in the outcome.

Here’s an if-only way to jump-start the economy for sure: hire the American people as consultants and analysts.

Why not. We’ve got more of a stake in the outcome than anything, or anyone, else.

Image credits: Flag: Adbusters via angelfire.com. Gingrich: Kyle Casady. Huckabee: © 2008 David Ball. Pawlenty: Jim Greenhill, republished under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 license Generic. Facebook logo: © 2011 Facebook.

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