After historic spending of well over $400 million to reach the starting gate, presidential candidates in both parties appear to have depleted their treasuries and will need to scramble for fresh funds to keep campaigning effectively after Tuesday's New Hampshire primary, when retail politicking gives way to advertising in states with expensive television markets.
In contrast to the quarterly gamesmanship of earlier fund-raising periods, no candidate has disclosed "cash on hand" at year's end, and few have indicated how much they raised, usually a sign that the figures are disappointing. Moreover, because so many primaries and caucuses are crammed into January, both nominations could be sewn up by the time candidates are required to file campaign finance reports at the end of this month.
Public matching funds, a survival option for struggling candidates in a year of record-obliterating fund-raising, affords a lifeline for former senator John Edwards of North Carolina, second among Democrats in Iowa, and Senator John McCain of Arizona, who finished fourth among Republicans and whose campaign has gone into debt to stay afloat. Both are still competitive. Edwards has qualified for an initial $8.8 million with more available as he raises additional funds. McCain qualified for $5.8 million. McCain's campaign, however, retains the option of rejecting the funds, which come with strings attached - tight spending caps in each state.
Both have taken public funding in prior runs - McCain, $14.8 million in 2000; Edwards, $6.6 million in 2004.
"The money is just one piece, but a critical piece, for knowing who's up, who's down, and who's beholden and to which interest," said Sheila Krumholz, executive director of the Center for Responsive Politics, a nonpartisan research group that tracks the influence of money in national politics. She called the amounts being raised and spent "staggering" and said "many voters won't have complete information this year."
Mike Murphy, a Republican strategist who has worked for McCain and Mitt Romney in the past, said campaigns can't resist the pressure to win at all costs in the early contests. "Everybody panics and overspends in the early states, and then they're broke. It's always the story," he said.
Senator Barack Obama of Illinois, the big winner in Iowa, raised about $23 million in the past three months of 2007 but spent heavily to beat third-place finisher Senator Hillary Clinton of New York in the leadoff state of Iowa and had a modest balance on hand heading into New Hampshire, a campaign official told the Globe. However, the campaign raised about $750,000 via the Internet Thursday night and Friday morning, according to the official, who was not authorized to speak for the campaign and requested anonymity. That would raise Obama's 2007 fund-raising total to about $103 million.
Murphy, who was McCain's strategist in his unsuccessful 2000 run, said winning solves financial problems, and predicted money will not be a problem for Obama for long. "He'll be unbroke in about 72 hours," Murphy said. "I know he has restrictions on who he takes money from, but he's going to be a lot more popular in certain Washington-area ZIP codes after beating Clinton" in Iowa.
"Once you look like a winner, then the money pours in," said Robert Shrum, who was the top strategist for John Kerry in 2004 when an Iowa caucus win dramatically improved the financial condition of his campaign.
That should also help Mike Huckabee, a former Arkansas governor, who, with a shoestring budget, handily defeated Mitt Romney in the Iowa caucuses and now faces the challenge of becoming a national candidate quickly.
Clinton's campaign said yesterday that it had raised almost $30 million in the fourth quarter, boosting her annual total for 2007 to about $110 million. Terry McAuliffe, campaign chairman, told reporters the campaign had "the resources to go on" and compete through Feb. 5, when more than 20 states will hold contests. But he offered no details, and when the Globe asked the campaign when it might have a cash-on-hand estimate, Clinton spokesman Blake Zeff said he did not know and the campaign has until month's end to file its report.
Whatever the balance available, at least $18 million of Clinton's funds cannot be spent in primary or caucus campaigns and may only be spent in the general election campaign if she wins the nomination. Obama has at least $5 million in his campaign account with similar restrictions.
The $400 million spending estimate is conservative, based on combined spending totals of $258 million for all candidates through the first three quarters of 2007, according to figures on opensecrets.org, the website of the Center for Responsive Politics. In 2003, candidates spent a combined $153 million, led by President Bush's $33.6 million and Democrat Howard Dean's $31.3 million. Romney, Obama, and Clinton far exceeded those totals in the first nine months of 2007.
In New Hampshire, candidates from both parties have spent more than $23 million on TV ads - $12.3 million on WMUR in Manchester and about $10.8 million on Boston stations. Romney, now trying to fend off McCain's resurgence in New Hampshire, accounts for $9 million of the total. He alone among candidates can dip into his personal wealth to keep his campaign afloat and has already spent at least $17 million of his own money, and possibly much more.
Since February, Romney has purchased $3.9 million in ads on WMUR in Manchester, the state's only network affiliate television station, according to running tallies kept by Dante J. Scala, a political science professor at the University of New Hampshire. That accounts for nearly one-third of the $12.3 million purchased by all candidates on WMUR. As of late last week, Romney's campaign had also bought almost $5 million worth of air time on Boston stations, according to a service that tracks ad purchases by all the campaigns, plus a small amount of time on a Portland, Maine, station.
Also on the GOP side, McCain has spent about $3.6 million on New Hampshire ads; former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani, about $2.4 million; Texas Representative Ron Paul, $625,000; and Huckabee, $175,000.
Among Democrats, Obama has spent about $4.2 million on Manchester and Boston TV, followed by Clinton, at about $3.5 million; Edwards, about $1.6 million; and Governor Bill Richardson of New Mexico, about $700,000.
The American Federation of Teachers has also purchased more than $300,000 in radio air time for New Hampshire ads in support of Clinton, part of a $1 million "independent expenditure" of direct mail and ads on her behalf in Iowa and New Hampshire, according to reports filed with the Federal Election Commission.
After New Hampshire, the TV markets become more expensive. In Michigan, which will hold a Republican primary next week, a modest statewide television buy costs about $700,000 per week.
Romney's campaign began airing ads in the secondary Michigan markets of Grand Rapids, Flint, and Traverse City several weeks ago. McCain has also purchased air time in smaller Michigan markets, and Paul, who reported raising $19.5 million in the fourth quarter in part through record-breaking one-day takes on the Internet, has bought time on Michigan radio.
The most expensive early state is Florida, where Republicans will compete in a primary on Jan. 29. An average TV buy in all 10 markets costs an estimated $1.2 million a week.