Friday, February 23, 2007

The Money Wars

Days Until Bush Leaves Office = 696

With the Iowa campaign calendar once more relatively quiet for the next few days, here are a couple of thoughts going in to this weekend.

Barack Obama’s swing through Hollywood this week is reported to have netted him about $1.3 million, which is not a bad haul for 18 hours’ work. Also this week, and this can’t be a coincidence, the Hillary Clinton campaign launched an email drive to raise $1 million through small private donations in one week. I see a couple of significant points in this: one, the email launching the fundraising drive was from Bill Clinton, and this is the first time that I’ve seen where Hillary’s campaign has directly involved him as a messenger and fundraiser; two, the campaign sent out a follow-up email the next day from James Carville not only trumpeting the success of the fundraising drive’s first 24 hours, but also citing a specific dollar amount – over $285, 000 in the first day – that came in as a result of a single email from Bill Clinton.

Here’s where this is going. I think the message from the Clinton campaign to the Obama campaign is: You’re moving in on Hollywood money? We’re moving in on grass roots money, and we’ll get what you get, dollar for dollar, and then some. You’ve got David Geffen? We’ve got Bill Clinton. You forego public financing because you think you can keep up with us? We will out-fundraise you back to the Stone Age. And Obama campaign be warned: there is no free pass to the High Road. The minute you start getting some traction, we’ll tie your newfound Hollywood patrons around your neck like an albatross, and we’ll be the wholesome beneficiaries of public support while you spend days off-message wrestling with questions about taking money tainted by the proverbial Hollywood “sleaze.”

This is how the game is played, in both parties and in any campaign with stakes higher than City Dog Catcher. Normally this all goes on out of public view, because that is what usually serves the candidates best. But in this case, both sides are sending a message, like the fish wrapped in Luca Brasi’s coat. This episode doesn’t necessarily set the tone of the entire campaign, and I expect that the current hubbub will die down. But there will be flare-ups from time to time, and the press will point back to this when they happen.

The important thing is that both campaigns – and, more directly, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama themselves – manage their street fights to ensure that Democratic prospects in the general election are not damaged. That’s the real battle, and they need to keep their eye on the ball.

Finally, as far as David Geffen’s comments to Maureen Dowd are concerned, here’s all you need to know: the Oscars are this Sunday, and Geffen wants to make sure he works his way into Ellen DeGeneres’s opening monologue. That’s all, folks!


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