Saturday, February 3, 2007

The Rough Reality of Money

I do believe that before the end of 2007 John Edwards will have taken my advice about making moves to re-connect with ordinary people.

The bottom line is that he has made his ability to speak to and speak for working folk the measure of his credibility and electability.

However, while we're on the theme of "Reality is Rough," the reality of the modern election cycle is that until at least June of this year, the focus of all Presidential Candidates is going to be on raising money.

Not so much because they need the money (which, of course, they do), but because everyone now recognizes that the first electoral beauty contest will not be Iowa in January 2008, but Wachovia in March 2007, followed by Bank of America in June 2007.

Howard Dean changed the dynamics.

Howard didn't leap from nowhere to the front of the Democratic pack one year before 2004 because he opposed the War on Iraq. He stole that front-runner status from John Kerry because he raised more money than anyone else, as reported in the first two quarters of 2003.

And contrary to popular opinion, Howard didn't raise all that money sitting on the Internet in Vermont. He raised it trading on his family connections with Wall Street powerhouse Dean Witter Reynolds.

The rough reality is that, with a wide-open race for the Democratic Nomination, the person who reports the most money raised at the end of the first two quarters of 2007 will probably achieve an unassailable popular lead going into the caucus and primary contests in 2008.

I say again, not because of the money per se, but because fund-raising chops on their own will be viewed as an early psychological test of electability.

And remember, that money will be coming from Wall Street, not Main Street. From Hollywood, not your neighborhood. The only thing about the Internet that will truly interest campaign treasurers will be those companies and individuals who became billionaires as a result of it.

Howard Dean opened up a whole new box of tricks in 2003. But he then closed it all down again in 2004.

He had everyone - including those holding the purse strings - convinced that the campaign playbook no longer had to be safe. You could go the whole way with a populist, insurgency campaign.

And so the check-books opened, and the political endorsements followed soon after.

Just in time for Howard to implode.

This time, boardrooms are going to want Candidates to play it safe - and they're going to want to know the definition of 'safe' before they empty their pockets.

That's why Hillary will be spending this week in meetings with her top money men and women. She's going to be showing them her campaign playbook, to convince them she has the moves to go all the way.

And that's why John, who has put together an excellent campaign that looks truly populist, actually has it under tight control, with intricate choreography of every aspect - he doesn't want to frighten off his own money men and women.

John knows the importance of making a big showing early on with election money efforts. Even though it was Howard who ended up making the biggest fund-raising splash among Democrats in 2003, it was John who led Democratic fund-raising in the first quarter of that pre-election year.

That was a feat that was to prove curiously prophetic of of his second place finish in the 2004 Iowa caucus - a result that may have been surprising to all but John and a few others who truly understand the bandwagon effect that success in fund-raising can have on voters in caucuses and primaries.

The word is that John has scheduled 24 fund-raisers over 19 days this February alone. Once again, John will be reaching out to fellow trial lawyers — as he did in 2004. “Fund-raising has been a lot easier than we thought it would be,” said Jennifer Palmieri, one of John's spokespersons.

Howard Wolfson, a spokesman for Hillary's campaign is on record saying: “No one plays the expectations game better than the Edwards team. For two years, they have been telling their extensive network of donors to hold off giving him money so they could collect at least $20 million in the first filing period of 2007."
[Editorial comment: "would that be a 'surge' of cash in the first filing period...oh come on; I couldn't resist!"]

So, the rough reality is that John will probably have to continue playing it polished until at least June, in the hope that by then he will have repeated and perhaps improved upon his election money performance of 2003.

The irony is that by then he may already have lost too much credibility with the very folks upon whom he is betting the whole deal - the real working men and women of America.

And the double irony may well be that the check-books were opening for John in the first place precisely because of his perceived ability to appeal to those working folk.

What to do? Frankly, if I had an easy answer to that conundrum, I'd probably be running John's campaign.

But Dave and John, is there not some way to do both - raise serious money, and maintain connection and credibility with real working people?

I can't help but wonder if my idea of two parallel efforts - Dave running OneAmerica, and John out doing grass-roots glad-handing - wouldn't actually prove quite attractive to potential financial supporters.

Populist and safe - both at the same time...?

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