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September 29, 2007

Edwards and Public Funds

Brian Beutler is right that, by the standards of past primaries, Edwards has rather a lot of money. But by the standards of this primary, he doesn't have all that much money at all. Compared to Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, he's far behind. And while the absolute sum on hand may have been sufficient to exceed the saturation point in 2004, in 2008, with the compressed primary schedule where California comes only 3-and-a-half weeks after Iowa, it probably isn't. Indeed, this is why Edwards, a couple months ago, forswore going the public route because he needed to remain "competitive."

Also, remember that when you're talking public funds, the downside is that they have spending caps. So however much money Edwards has, his spending in the primary states will be severely restricted (save on field, which doesn't come under the caps). Moreover, the problem with public funding isn't in the primaries, but once they're completed. Kos explains:

Lots of money is spent in January and February. Let's say Edwards emerges the victor -- wins Iowa, and parlays that victory into national momentum. It could really happen, especially if Hillary and Barack beat the crap out of each other.

So he's won, but he's spent his primary money, and he won't get his first general election check until after the Democratic convention. August 25.

So Edwards won't have any money in March, April, May, June, July, and most of August. That's six months of darkness.

Six months in which the Republicans will be beating the crap out of him, because they won't do anything so foolish. Six months to turn Edwards into the devil incarnate, with no money to hit back.

What's worse is that, for once, the Democrats are outraising the Republicans. We'd be in a position to dominate that period. Edwards, in order to get a temporary infusion of funds in the short-term that could help him win the primary, is handicapping himself, and his party, in the longer-term. Now, this may be his best chance to win the nomination. But it's not the best strategy for the general election, and, to my mind, it strikes a real blow against his "electability" argument.

September 29, 2007 | Permalink


Ezra, it doesn't necessarily apply to the General. Bonior:

"Once we win the nomination, John will challenge the Republican nominee to join him in accepting public financing. Quite frankly, it’s a fight we’d welcome. If they refuse, we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it and make the decision at that time about whether to accept public financing. But you can be sure that we will run a campaign that is aggressive, adequately funded, and successful."

So this line about him hurting himself in the general, and the Party, doesn't wash.

In any case, I imagine his electability will look just fine after he wins Iowa and polls show him crushing the GOP winner, Romney, and handily beating all the other GOP contenders.

Posted by: david mizner | Sep 29, 2007 12:05:47 PM

Bullshit. The DNC has no such spending caps, and the DNC can essentially air ads on behalf of Edwards should he become the nominee. The notion that Edwards will run out of money if accepts public financing is utterly misinformed.

Posted by: Christmas | Sep 29, 2007 1:51:03 PM

David Mizner:
Thanks!! I can't believe all these people willing to trash Edwards just because he accepts public funds for the primary. Hell, does anyone outside of political junkies even know about it?

Posted by: Joe Klein's conscience | Sep 29, 2007 1:51:35 PM


I despise Hill-Bill and the whole DINO/DNC crowd and to me Obama at this point is empty [if beautiful] rhetoric.

But this argument has the best fit against Edwards that Hill & Bill & DINO/DNC folks have come up with.

I talked to a hard core DINO/DNC/Hill & Bill guy and he was testing the argument on me, normally he is full of poop, but he could see unlike his other arguments for a return of Hill & Bill, this one had a grain of truth...and consequently might work.

I told him his problem was that he had to make this story widely known early on and if the storyline was traced back to Hill & Bill, it would be pretty clear to Dem voters that Hill & Bill were using their senate campaign money to extort the Democratic party for their own personal gain. No news here, but the base might not be as accepting of DINO/DNC/Hill & Bill's trash after their disgraceful performance of the last two years.

His trump line was good, what does it matter, "they either stay home or vote" DINO/DNC/Hill & Bill in.

He's right.

As I have stated before, DNC/Hill & Bill, have decimated the Democratic party before...perusing a rightwing Ideology that has left the middle class in decline and working people without any representation. Because of their previous history and the base having a longer memory than most Democrats, when Hill & Bill get the nomination through their Machiavellian maneuvers, they will have the shortest coattails of all the candidates. And if history is predictive, they will decimate the Democratic gains of 2006 by 2010, just as they did between 1992 & 1994.

That's why Murdoch supports Hillary...

...he wants history to repeat.

Posted by: S Brennan | Sep 29, 2007 2:53:35 PM

Its not just the DNC has no caps ... there are no caps on the infamous "issues" groups forming and raising money on the net to attack the Republican nominee.

In the end, though, it comes down to whether we want a transactional candidate or we want a candidate who wants to contribute to the building of a movement. If its the latter, the fact that field is not capped means that March through August is six months to be building a nationwide organization.

And after all, an important reason that coat-tails have been getting shorter for Democratic Presidential candidates is the decline of mobilization politics.

If we want to have something more than just the White House ... if we want to be pushing for the largest possible progressive caucus in the House and the narrowest possible opportunities to fillibuster in the Senate ... there is nothing wrong with having the Democratic nominee apparent channeling all of the funds he raises during the balance of the primary season into field ... and getting Federal matching funds for doing so.

There are multiple avenues to get media messages out there ... both fending off Republican attacks and, more importantly, landing blows on the Republican nominee. The idea that accepting federal campaign financing is going to result in a repeat of Dukakis is a case of refighting an old war while ignoring how the strategic field has shifted.

Posted by: BruceMcF | Sep 29, 2007 3:35:05 PM

I agree that lemonade is a tasty treat that comes from lemons... and I don't think Edwards winning with the caps in place is necessarily a disaster... but I do think the chances for Edwards winning the nomination have gotten more distant, which is a much more immediate problem than what happens next May. I don't like the "money primary" probably more than anyone, but I'm not going to pretend it's not important, and the reality remains that Edwards is losing it.

Posted by: weboy | Sep 29, 2007 3:57:47 PM

Hold the convention once the nomination is locked up. Might as well. Or hold a de facto convention that does the actual nominating, and keep the big rah-rah event as the coronation it would be anyway.

Posted by: pseudonymous in nc | Sep 29, 2007 4:10:58 PM

oddly it was many of the A list bloggers a couple of years ago arguing we don't even need a convention anymore. What sets the deadline? more importantly its clear that is just being jused as a pretext for their desire to be accepted into the higher ranks of the party. i get it. but don't pass opinion off as if its a truism. it's insulting.

Posted by: akaison | Sep 29, 2007 4:27:09 PM

I'm curious, unless Edwards were to enforce his copyright (and why would we?), couldn't he post ads on his website and then any outside group could just download them (or at least create a shot for shot remake) and pay to air them on TV?

I mean there'd be no coordination and the spending limits restrict Edwards's free speech, not outside groups. As for McCain-Feingold's "electioneering commnication" restriction (assuming last month's Supreme Court ruling didn't put a stake into it), it only applies 60 days before a general and 30 days before a primary. The last primaries are in Montana and South Dakota on June 3 but most of the country will have voted long before that.

As long as the outside group doesn't run ads in a state that has a primary within the next 30 days, borrowing an Edwards ad and running it wouldn't qualify as "electioneering communication".

Posted by: beowulf | Sep 29, 2007 4:41:29 PM

History of the GOP beating up on a "dark" Dem nominee in the summer is indicative of different circumstances.

Dukakis was broke, and trashed by Bush 1 even worst that Kerry by Bush 2, but neither Bush had any real competition within their own party. They had nothing better to do with their primary war chest but to start the trashing of the other party early.

RudyMittThompMcCain will be busy, and even broker than any Dem -- even with spending caps.

For once, finally there's a real progressive that has a real shot, and typical of us thinking people, we want to over analyze this. Geez.

Get your heads out of your butts and follow your hearts. That's what America will do if this "electibility" nonsense is taken out of the mix -- wonks and political geeks who comment on blogs are the only ones who even know let alone care about this, but the rest of America get's a clue from us. It's ridiculous to worry about tactics in the General at this point.

Posted by: Mark Adams | Sep 29, 2007 4:49:11 PM

If Mitt Romney will be the nominee - and that's a very big "if" - he will not be broke. He has several hundred million of his own, never mind contributions, to tap into if needed. McCain, suffering from similar problems to Edwards, likely won't be the nominee. Giuliani is doing okay, but not great with fundraising, and Thompson may be as well (we won't know until January, though frankly I think he's turned out to be a big dud). I don't necessarily buy that all is lost with a candidate who plays within the spending caps; but don't kid yourselves that the Republican won't, out of brokeness or kindness, hammer the Democrat once the primaries are over and they can. And the bigger problem, still, is that Edwards needs substantial funds, not for the general, but simply to make it strongly through the primaries, with both Obama and Hillary sitting on plenty of money to spend through Spring and still be able to face a Republican after that. The reason this "electability" argument is such a red herring is because the people making it don't expect him to make it through the primaries anyway. And having his defenders argue, somewhat distractedly, about the prospects in May, takes the eyes off the ball. It's the primaries that need focus, not May and beyond.

Posted by: weboy | Sep 29, 2007 5:21:08 PM


If you think the DINO/DLC/DNC would support Edwards during the interim, you're dreaming, they would much prefer a Republican to Edwards. They have gained control over the Democratic party and have sold working people down the river. The DINO/DLC elements are pursuing a rightwing Ideology. They want the US electorate to chose between a rightwing Democrat or hardover rightwing Republican, either way the plutocrats gain, and working people lose.

Posted by: S Brennan | Sep 29, 2007 5:55:25 PM

It's amazing how well conditioned the political consultants have us, Paid Media Uber Alles. I have no doubt the progressive movement will be able to pony up enough money to do any bridge ad buys if that proves necessary. The more important thing is to have the right message and the right messagenger

Posted by: AJ | Sep 29, 2007 5:59:42 PM

"If you think the DINO/DLC/DNC would support Edwards during the interim, you're dreaming, they would much prefer a Republican to Edwards"

DNC National Chairperson Howard Dean is a DINO that would rather see a Republican President then Edwards?

Posted by: Christopher Colaninno | Sep 29, 2007 8:29:12 PM

If I understand the argument, Edwards is now considered a serious contender for the nomination versus Obama and Clinton. However, his viability has been purchased at the price of financially hamstringing the party at a crucial point in the coming campaign. Ergo, his nomination would pose a danger to prospects of Democratic victory in '08.

It's an ingenious and cunning argument. It attacks Edwards' electability even as it raises the spectre of his winning the nomination as a looming threat. The gist seems to be "don't vote for Edwards because he might win."

This is a provocative departure. Up until now, partisan antagonism towards Edwards has been largely condescending and dismissive. It appears this approach is being abandoned in favor of transforming him into the dark horseman of the Democratic Party, bringing on the electoral apocalypse.

Frankly, I think this is pretty poor propaganda. I don't see Edwards as convincing in the role of Lord Voldemort or Sauron. I doubt many others will either. Certainly not enought for an "Anybody but Edwards" groundswell.

Interesting to see Edwards go from object of scorn to object of fear though.

Isn't it a little early for the politics of doom and hysteria?

Posted by: WB Reeves | Sep 29, 2007 8:29:34 PM


"The Times is basically covering the Dem primary as a two-person race is borne out by the numbers. We did a Nexis search and discovered that both Hillary and Obama separately each earned mentions in nearly twice the number of articles that mentioned Edwards. We found:

Hillary: Mentioned in 304 articles in the last three months

Obama: Mentioned in 302 articles in the last three months

Edwards: Mentioned in 171 articles in the last three months

This is thoroughly unscientific, admittedly -- but that's a big disparity.


Posted by: S Brennan | Sep 29, 2007 9:29:36 PM


I call it the damned if you do, damned if you don't approach to his candidacy. He's pandering if he comes out in support of poverty issues, but Clinton is being honest by pandering to big corporate interests. He's pandering if he talks about lobby interests, but she's just going after the independents by voting to start a new war with iran. and on and on. It's getting kind of silly. Frankly its been highly illuminating- this behavior by the bloggers on the A list. I realize now their goal is to get into the establishment, not to change it.

Posted by: akaison | Sep 29, 2007 11:00:54 PM

Worth noting that Markos is ideologically opposed to any kind of campaign finance restriction, as well as being opposed to public financing.

This is selfishly smart behavior from someone who depends on advertising to pay his mortgage - the more money in the system the better for him, and the more folks vulnerable to shakedowns the better for him. But it's not particularly good strategy for the party of the people.


Markos' specific criticism here breaks down pretty quickly, once you start to examine it.

Third party ad spending with no formal co-ordination with the campaign is nothing new. It's been done many times before with great success, as I would expect Markos to understand.

There will be plenty of entities, both official and unofficial, in the Democratic Party to raise and spend money on ad buys in the April to August period to defend and promote the Edwards candidacy. If there is more D than R money to be found, it will be found quite easily outside of the formal campaign.

Posted by: Petey | Sep 30, 2007 5:28:38 AM

Isn't the Republican in this election going to need to spend an extraordinary amount of money and energy just trying to convince the public that they are not more of the same nightmare that Bush begun? Are they really going to be able to hammer the Democrat that effectively this time around? Are there any tricks left in their bag that people will still fall for?

It seems like this should count for something when we add this stuff up no? Maybe I'm being too optimistic but I really would like to think this country has come around a lot more since Bush and Kerry.

Posted by: Plisko | Sep 30, 2007 6:18:57 AM

Least we forget the reason why Clinton needs the extra money in this race is that she isn't exactly the most liked of our choices so she will spend much of her time convincing others that she's not the anti christ.

Posted by: akaison | Sep 30, 2007 10:38:13 AM

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