Saturday, October 20, 2007

Iowa and New Hampshire More Important Than Ever

I posted earlier this week on the Iowa GOP's decision to push their party caucuses up to January 3, a date marking the earliest start to the presidential nomination contest in post-1972 history. Beyond citing the research of William Mayer - perhaps the country's top expert on the politics of presidential nominations - I didn't really elaborate on the practical significance of this year's extremely frontloaded primary season.

Thus, I'm pleased to report that
Mark Barabak and Dan Morain's article today has a great analysis of the implications of this year's unprecedented early balloting:

For months, politicians in big states like California, Florida and Michigan have griped about their lack of influence in the 2008 presidential race, pushing up their primaries to try to diminish the sway of Iowa and New Hampshire.

Now, thanks to those efforts, Iowa and New Hampshire appear more important than ever.

The reasons are illustrated in the latest campaign fundraising reports, issued this week. The figures show a presidential contest that has effectively split into two financial tiers. One consists of Democratic Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York and Barack Obama of Illinois, who are swimming in campaign cash. The other consists of everybody else in the race.

Despite the competitive nature of the contest, fundraising has proved more difficult than many presidential candidates anticipated, particularly on the Republican side. Candidates face pressure to score an early victory in Iowa or New Hampshire -- the two states adamant about voting first -- and then hope to quickly replenish their campaign treasuries to compete in the rapid succession of contests that follow.

Failing that, the also-rans, Democratic and Republican, will probably have to pack up their campaigns and quit before the vast majority of voters even have a chance to weigh in.

"Iowa and New Hampshire are everything," said Scott Reed, an unaffiliated GOP strategist, echoing the words of other political analysts. "They'll be like a slingshot for whoever wins and does well."
Read the whole thing.

This need for big, early money is probably the most important implication of the frontloaded calendar, and frankly I'm endlessly fascinated by current developments in presidential campaign finance (my defense of the big money campaign regime
is here).

In 2004, President Bush and Democratic nominee John Kerry
raised $274 million and $253 million respectively (and that was just for the primaries, as both candidates accepted public funding for the general election). Total receipts are expected to exceed that this year, and Barabak and Morain have a nice graphic on the money totals for the current candidates' presidential campaign war chests (click here to see the graphic). Both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama have raised about $80 million apiece. On the GOP side, Mitt Romney's the most prodigious fundraiser, at $61 million, and Rudy Giulani's holding the second spot with about $47 million.

The lower-tiered candidates will certainly be hard-pressed to remain competitive as their war chests dwindle come January. The main thing to watch, though, will be how much each of the major-party nominees raise and spend in the general election. 2008's expected to be the most expensive campaign ever. But what matters most is how well the GOP does in funding their party's standard-bearer.

Personally, I'm expecting a tight race in money and polling, but in the battle of ideas the GOP will win hands down.