City of Brass

City of Brass


$150 million: a Palin September, the Perfect Storm

posted by Aziz Poonawalla

This is simply beyond adjective and superlative and entering into utterly transcendent territory: Obama raised $150 million in September:

Barack Obama
raised more than $150 million in September, a stunning and
unprecedented eruption of political giving that has given him a wide
spending advantage over rival John McCain.

The
Democrat’s campaign released the figure Sunday, one day before it must
file a detailed report of its monthly finances with the Federal Election Commission.

Obama’s
money is fueling a vast campaign operation in an expanding field of
competitive states. It also has underwritten a wave of both national
and targeted video advertising unseen before in a presidential contest.

Campaign manager David Plouffe,
in an e-mail to supporters Sunday morning, said the campaign had added
632,000 new donors in September, for a total of 3.1 million
contributors to the campaign
. He said the average donation was $86.

Obama’s monthly figure pushed his total fundraising to $605 million. No presidential candidate has ever run such an expensive campaign. His campaign raised $65 million in August, his previous best.

“The
overall numbers obviously are impressive,” Plouffe said in a campaign
video. “But it’s what’s beneath the numbers in terms of average
Americans who have had enough, who want a change and who are really
fueling this campaign
.”

I think Obama’s campaign needs to send Sarah Palin some roses. It’s clear that Palin’s selection by McCain sent a shock wave of alarm throughout the political world, given how woefully unqualified Palin is for any national office whatsoever (as her interviews with Katie Couric have painfully demonstrated). Even Colin Powell was uncharacteristically blunt in assessing Palin’s qualifications:

…he said McCain’s choices in the last few weeks — especially his
selection of Gov. Sarah Palin of Alaska as his vice presidential
running mate — had raised questions in his mind about McCain’s
judgment.

“I don’t believe [Palin] is ready to be president of the United
States,” Powell said flatly. By contrast, Obama’s running mate, Sen.
Joe Biden of Delaware, “is ready to be president on day one.”

Millions of ordinary Americans reacted much the same way, wondeirng just how “Country First” McCain could possibly have made such an ill-advised, blatantly political pick for his Veep, and realizing just what it implied about McCain’s judgement and priorities. In hindsight, the signs were clear that Palin was triggering an avalanche of donations to Obama, but no one could have predicted such a titanic windfall of small-donor support.

It must be said that this represents an absolute and total vindication of the Howard Dean campaign, and manager Joe Trippi’s vision of “The Perfect Storm”. On May 17th, 2003, Joe Trippi posted a blog entry at the unofficial Dean Nation weblog entitled simply, The Perfect Storm. In that post, since reprinted many times elsewhere, he wrote like the prophet he is:

never
— until now — would there ever have been any hope of 1 million
Americans contributing $100 each to take back their country and promote
a common vision for the future of the nation. Maybe it will be 2
million who contribute $50. But the Internet makes that possible. Or
maybe it will be 5 million Americans contributing $20. The tools,
energy, leadership and the right candidate, are all in place to create
the Perfect Storm of Presidential politics — where millions of
Americans act together and organize their communities, their
neighborhoods and their precincts. It is ironic I think that the
Perfect Storm may indeed be made possible by the internet — but in the
end the real storm it may create is the largest grassroots/election day
get-out-the-vote — shoe leather/door knocking organization in the
history of American politics.

I have said before that it sounds audacious.

Audacious indeed. But witness the audacity of hope. Trippi’s vision has been realized, far more than he could ever have imagined. Where the Dean campaign broke the trail, the Obama campaign has laid shinkansen tracks. Obama surpassed the 1-million-donor mark back during the primary in February, and now the total is three times that number.

Forget the rhetoric about campaign finance reform – the Obama campaign, like the Dean campaign before it, IS campaign finance reform. As GOP technocrat Patrick Ruffini notes ruefully, “public finance in the general election is dead, dead, dead.”

Any nominee from now on can safely opt out because the
Internet makes it for the public to massively participate. If we had
not had a nominee with such misguided instincts on campaign finance
reform, Republicans probably would have figured this out this time.
McCain raised $47 million in August, or 71% of Obama’s total, and he
raised $10 million in 2 days because of Sarah Palin. Had this trend
continued into September, McCain would have raised over $100 million
for the month. By the time the McCain campaign figured out it was
possible to excite the base, it was too late.

Ruffini is correct. No candidate, Republican or Democrat, will ever accept federal matching funds again. But what’s more important is how Obama will use the money: to redraw the electoral map, not just to win reliably blue states and tip the battleground states, but to actively encroach on once-solidly Red Republican territory. Consider that Obama is within 4 points of McCain in Montana and dead even in North Dakota. There’s a real possibility of a new “sagebrush rebellion” in the Mountain West – and even in the old Confederacy, where West Virginia and even Georgia are in play. This is all possible because of Howard Dean, who as chairman of the DNC has pursued a “50-state strategy”, putting Democratic Party offices in every state, no matter how deep red – and laying the groundwork for Obama’s campaign to set up shop.

This is truly a new kind of politics, and a transformative election. We really are at the cusp of something new, and grand, and exciting. Will it be a $200 million October? And a 400 EV victory in November? We will find out, in less than three weeks.



  • Thomas Nephew

    A word about this; it *is* campaign reform …but only for a certain kind of campaign. The fundraising phenomena of the last 5 years have been Dean, Obama, and Paul. All 3 are charismatic figures, and there’s a sense of insurgency and newness about each of these campaigns that can’t be bottled, and may not be replicable even by the candidates themselves.
    Now one good way to look at it is that’s a good problem to have — you want something that favors a charismatic insurgent to offset the various advantages of incumbency.
    But there are obviously different kinds of “charismatic insurgent”, and some are not so good. And (2) alternative, “issues based movement” challengers may fall short, where they might not have if campaigns were bankrolled via the federal government, based on election returns in prior years.

  • Thomas Nephew

    meant to put a (1) at the front of the 3d para: “But (1) there are…”

  • Aziz Poonawalla

    In a sense, Thomas, you’re saying that a dry wonkish type might not be able to command the following that the personalities-type might, and that’s possible. However, it should be noted that Dean was not necessarily a charisma fountain either – what he had was passion, and spoke very plainly about what he saw as the problem (the Democrats’ sanction of the war in Iraq) without the usual obscurantism. On the strength of that passion and clarity, he built his movement, with Trippi’s help. Obama is different in that he never articulated a clear position at the sart of his rise the way Dean did, but rather spoke from the beginning of ideals and a vision. Thats not a critique of him, I am just pointing out that Obama appealed to a different emotion than Dean did. Ultimately, we want a leader who can be articulate and who can command a following on teh strength of their words. A true booky wonky type who speaks softly and only has good ideas but no delivery or ability, most importantly, to inspire, is not someone who I think would be an effective president. A veep, perhaps, but not the leader of the free world.

  • pammypoo

    …and, what will we have?

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