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Editorial | Money matters, to an extent | Rich Elfers
The 2012 election was the most expensive political war in American history. Republicans and Democrats spent $6 billion on all the campaigns – presidential and congressional and on the state level.
In the Presidential race, Obama supporters contributed almost a billion dollars and for Romney, a little more than a billion.
The 2010 Citizens United Supreme Court decision created independent super PACs. Conservative super PACs spent more than $330 million to defeat Obama, while Democratic Super PACs spent almost $98 million to defeat Romney. All the money spent, however, did not have much of an influence in deciding the election.
The Republicans still control the House of Representatives, the Democrats still control the Senate and the president is still Barack Obama.
Money matters, but only to a certain extent. After a point, it’s like nuclear war. A nation can increase the number of nuclear weapons in its arsenal, but a city can only be destroyed once. All the extra nukes and all the money above that point spent on preparing for a war and on campaigns are wasted.
A lot of money was spent on the battleground state of Ohio, with 207,518 TV campaign spots televised there alone. What both sides need to realize is that there is a point when that level of saturation ceases to be effective and voters tune out the ads.
In Washington state, Democrats also won the governorship and continued control in both state houses. Part of the reason is that Jay Inslee and other Democratic candidates were able to ride to election wins on Obama’s coattails. Control of the government on the state level did not change either.
Republicans need to broaden their demographic base. Winning only the votes of older, white males will not win Republicans elections. Republicans lost women, blacks and the Latino votes by large margins. They also lost the 18-29-age vote. Money doesn’t matter when a large number of demographic groups are alienated.
The structure of the Republican primaries forced Romney to move to the right to win the primaries and then to shift to the middle during the first debate to win the majority of voters. A lot of Republican money was spent on convincing their base that Romney was the best candidate.
Most voters in this country are center right. It’s the moderates and independents who decide who the president is going to be, not the base. Team Obama was able to use the “flip-flop” between the primaries and the general election to argue that Romney had no central core values.
Because Obama didn’t have to compete in the primaries, he didn’t have to deal with contradicting himself to win his base and then switch to win the middle. The Democrats saved a lot of money in the process.
To win his conservative base, Romney had to come out against the federal auto industry bailout. That comment alone cost him Ohio and the election.
Although Obama was outspent, his team’s strategy was more effective. Romney primarily fought an air war with TV ads with “only” 300 field offices, while Obama fought the war on the ground with approximately 800 field offices. Obama used the Internet far more effectively than did Romney. He got a bigger bang for his buck.
In conclusion, while the campaigns spent more money in history during a presidential election cycle, the outcome pretty much ended where it began. Money is important, but only to an extent.
After a point, organization and direct contact with voters seems to be what wins national elections. The candidate who reaches out to a broad range of voters gives himself a better shot at winning the election.
Even though the election ended where it began, it did pump $6 billion into the nation’s economy. Finally we got a bipartisan stimulus program that both sides supported.