President Obama’s campaign tour just completed a stop here in Burlington, Vermont with the President giving a rousing and well received speech before 4,500 of the party faithful on the University of Vermont campus. (They even cheered when Obama said Vermont had gone the longest of any state without a presidential visit, and again when he mispronounced the Governor’s name.) Why Vermont, you ask? Isn’t this the bluest state in the nation? Didn’t he win more than 2/3 of the votes here four years ago? Is he afraid that the state is in play this year?
Hardly. This was a fundraising event. Patrons coughed up $40 to a $100 to attend the rally on the UVM campus. Prior to that there was a more intimate event for about 100 of the really big donors, where for a cool $10,000 you could get your picture taken with President. Money from the tickets sold today alone will likely total $500,000 or more. But that’s not the only revenue source – you can buy hats, shirts, buttons, mugs – all sorts of campaign paraphernalia to help the President’s reelection effort. Estimates are that the total haul may approach $750,000. Not bad for what amounts to essentially a two-hour layover.
Remember, the dynamics of the fundraising contest have changed since 2008. Then, Obama used social networking sites to smash all previous fundraising records enroute to amassing a rather large financial advantage over John McCain. That’s not likely to happen this year no matter who the Republicans nominate. Although Obama continues to raise money hand over fist – he had more than $80 million cash on hand at the end of 2011 – the Republican money machine is matching the president dollar for dollar. This is largely because of the superpacs. While Mitt Romney only had about $19.9 million in the bank at the end of December, his superpac Restore Our Future was sitting on $23.6 million. And that’s not the only superpac in play – Karl Rove’s American Crossroads, which will likely play a big role this fall, had $15.6 million banked.
In contrast, Obama-aligned superpacs haven’t been nearly as effective raising money – perhaps because the President has been so strident in opposing their role in campaigns. Priorities USA, an Obama-leaning superpac, had only $1.5 million banked as of December 30. The Democratic Party’s congressional superpacs, such as House Majority PAC, haven’t done much better. Although the Democratic National Committee did report $12.6 million on hand, that was less than the Republican National Committee’s $20 million. When you add it all up – candidate cash, superpacs, party organizations – there is rough parity between Obama’s coalition and Republican groups in terms of cash on hand. And that’s why the President came to Vermont. Show me the money!
The speech itself was designed to motivate the faithful to give more – not just in terms of money, but also in commitment to the cause. The President listed his record of accomplishments, but did so in a way that resonated with Vermont voters. He cited job growth, but also ending Don’t Ask-Don’t Tell. He paired the killing of Bin Laden with withdrawal from Iraq, and from Afghanistan. He also mentioned some Vermont-centric issues, such as the need to expand internet access, and to invest in renewable energy. (Internet has been slow to come here, and there’s an ongoing debate regarding whether to shut down the local nuclear power plant.) And, as might be expected given the on-campus location, he cited the need to reduce tuition costs and to lower interest rates on student loans. Part of Obama’s goal in speaking on a college campus is to reignite the passion among younger voters that was so apparent in 2008, but which was noticeably lacking in the 2010 midterms.
As one might expect, the adoring crowd lapped it up, and the President seemed to feed off that positive energy. (There were the usual suspects protesting outside, but they didn’t get much coverage). And let’s face it – it has to be rewarding to appear before supporters who give you a 30-second ovation just for climbing the stage, and another one for taking off your jacket. Obama was clearly feeling the love. And let’s not forget the residual spillover to local politicians. Obama gave a shout-out to Burlington’s newly-elected Mayor and to our Governor Sumlin – er, Shumlin. (Blame the name slipup on the advance team!) He was accompanied on Air Force One (this was the smaller Boeing, not the big 747) by Vermont Senator Patrick Leahy and his wife, and met at the tarmac by Vermont’s other Senator Bernie Sanders. It’s always good to get face time with the President. It’s even better to be seen getting face time.
From here the President flies to Maine – another blue state that likely won’t be in play come November, but which can be counted on to help replenish his coffers. There’s also an open Senate race there and no doubt the President will try to court independent candidate Angus King.
Another day, another dollar. And the general campaign is still five months away. Give early, and give often! It’s the American way… .