Cash-poor Obama says no to Reid
By: John Bresnahan
September 16, 2008
Earlier this month, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid made a personal appeal to Barack Obama: Help me grow the Democrats’ Senate majority by sharing some of the $77 million you’ve got in the bank.
Obama’s campaign said no.
Although Democratic insiders say a better deal could still come, the Obama campaign so far has agreed only to let Senate Democrats use Obama’s name — as well as those of his wife and running mate — in mail and online fundraising pitches. The campaign has planned no joint fundraising events with House or Senate Democrats, and insiders say none is likely to be held before Election Day.
In rejecting a direct request from his Senate leader, Obama has put a fine point on the financial pressures he’s feeling as the presidential race turns toward the fall.
Obama raised a record-setting $66 million in August, leaving his campaign with about $77 million in cash now. Because he has turned down public financing, he can keep raising money through Election Day. John McCain, having accepted public financing, can’t do that — but he already has the $84 million in public money in his campaign coffers.
More importantly, McCain will get substantial help from the Republican National Committee — which has dramatically outraised its Democratic counterpart — and the Republican Party’s state and local committees.
Reid and Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee Chairman Charles Schumer had hoped at one point to get as much as $10 million from the Obama campaign. With 23 GOP seats up for grabs this year — versus only a dozen Democratic seats — Senate Democrats see a once-in-a-generation opportunity to pad their majority with as many as four to seven new seats.
But to do that, they’ll need money, and lots of it. While the DSCC still has a huge financial advantage over its GOP counterpart, the National Republican Senatorial Committee, the geographic overlap between competitive Senate seats and the tight presidential race means the McCain campaign and the RNC will be dumping tens of millions of dollars into battleground states with competitive Senate races. This will likely help down-ballot GOP candidates and incumbents.
Matthew Miller, the DSCC communications director, did not respond directly when asked about the majority leader’s discussion with Obama.
“We work closely with the Obama campaign on fundraising and on field operations and political organizing,” Miller said. “We have a great relationship with them.”
Miller noted that Obama has done two e-mail and two direct-mail pitches to donors on behalf of the DSCC this cycle, while Biden did one earlier this month.
The Obama campaign did not have a comment at press time.
One Democratic source familiar with the intraparty dispute over money said that fundraising e-mails and direct-mail pitches “are helpful, but we really don’t care about that. We need more help than that.”
Fights over money are nothing new for Democrats.
Schumer and then-Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Rahm Emanuel engaged in a long battle with DNC Chairman Howard Dean last cycle for funding for get-out-the-vote operations. After initially refusing to help, Dean eventually approved $5 million for House and Senate Democrats, although Emanuel and other Democratic strategists later said that more money would have made the 2006 Democratic victory even bigger.
Democrats on Capitol Hill have grumbled for months that it has been hard to orchestrate campaign events and appearances with the Obama campaign. One Democratic strategist said the campaign frequently turns down requests to have Obama appear with a Democratic incumbent or challenger, and that the events that do happen come only after some “very heavy lifting.”
In Obama’s defense, Democrats note that the nominee’s long primary fight with Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York cut in to the time Obama otherwise would have had to mount a general election campaign. And, they say, he’s so popular among Democrats that his campaign has been overwhelmed with more requests for appearances than it can possibly grant.
But having opted out of public financing, Obama also has had to spend significant time fundraising that, in the past, the Democratic candidate has used purely for politicking.