The election pace is picking up and Nov. 2 is getting closer and closer. Senator John Kerry is virtually assured the Democratic nomination. But it seems very possible that this election may be over from the very start. As President Bush begins to campaign with over $130 million in campaign funds, with more coming in every day, Kerry can only wish he will not be massively overwhelmed in the coming weeks and months. The task at hand for any Democratic supporter is to ensure that Kerry can survive this critical period before the Democratic National Convention.
The Bush-Cheney campaign, though perhaps not as aggressive or in the spotlight as those of the recent Democrats, has been well in effect since May of 2003. Bush’s team has been conducting polls and strategy sessions for the upcoming election, specifically planning to entice away core Democratic groups, such as unions and minorities. As of late, Bush has even begun running ads against the presumed Democratic nominee, criticizing Kerry for supposedly accepting campaign donations from special interest groups during his 19 years in the Senate. Without a doubt, this is a small threat coming from someone who “has taken more money than anyone has” in any presidential campaign, as Bill Allison, from the Center for Public Integrity, a nonpartisan campaign finance reform group, said. Nevertheless, it is indicative of the fact that the next few months will be a media blitz, as President Bush pumps all of what may end up being $200 million into radio and television, all before the Republican National Convention.
The disparity of funds is extraordinary. Despite Kerry’s claims (really hopes) that he can counter Bush’s plump and growing war chest, only a week ago he made an urgent plea for more money to even finish the primary campaign he is already assured of winning. But, even if he can last through the primaries, Kerry won’t get any of the Democratic Party’s money until the end of July. It seems inconceivable, given the present circumstances, that he can keep afloat until then. On the opposite side of the spectrum, Bush has so much money already he has delayed the Republican National Convention until the end of August, the latest ever, so as to use all of it in his blitz against Kerry. After the conventions, unless Bush decides to fund his campaign independently, a feat never before attempted by any presidential candidate, both candidates will have about 75 million for the rest of their election. Either way, Bush’s flood of campaigning in these coming months will squash Kerry.
This potential devastation is historically proven by the last two presidential elections. Gore suffered extremely from a three week stretch in 2000 when he ran out of money and Bush was able to dominate the airwaves in key swing states and make the critical first impression to major audiences. This held true in 1996, as Dole was dead broke after the primaries, allowing him to get swamped by Clinton before the conventions even happened. History will repeat itself, in monumental proportions, unless Kerry exercises the only out he has available to him.
The one and perhaps only hopeful thing that Kerry has going for him is that he opted out of federal matching funds at the very start of the primary process, believing he could raise more than 45 million. This means that, unlike those above mentioned candidates who went broke after the primaries burned their 45 million, Kerry can run to all his ex-rivals’ donors and ask them for more money. Some say he can get $50 million from that alone. With organized labor and big name Democratic contributors, Kerry may well be able to get $100 million. However, this number, while significant and unprecedented for any candidate in his position, is still not enough to counter the mass that Bush has amassed and continues to amass. Many expect Bush will surpass his goal of $170 million by the RNC and reach $200 million.
So what’s the point? The point is that all Democrats need to unite behind Kerry and put aside the factions created by the primary process. Even Dean supporters, despite their resentment toward Kerry after his assumption of the frontrunner spot after the quick fall of Governor Dean, must help Kerry get the money to survive the Republican onslaught. It was Dean who set records for his collecting $40 million in small checks from the middle class, primarily through the Internet. This method of mobilizing the broad Democratic middle class is essential to Kerry raising the money he needs to combat Bush. Even Joe Trippi, Dean’s collection organizer, has publicly stated that Democrats’ best option is the Internet. If most of the Democratic base hops on board, Trippi predicts that Kerry can realistically raise $200 million.
Kerry should and will use the momentum he has to get all the money he can from all the Democrats contributors from the primaries. This also means all Democrats must rally behind Kerry, if any attempt on the White House is to be made in 2004. Lastly, while this is clearly not the biggest issue in the election to come, this tries to ensure that a competitive election even takes place. The pressing nature of this issue makes it the most important and thus most deserving of our immediate attention.