Money Yells

2 minute read
Nancy Gibbs

In politics, money can’t buy you love–but it can buy you time: TV time, face time, time to be taken seriously because political speculators are willing to invest in you. Thus former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, long idling at about 3% in the polls, now gets 15 minutes of fame, courtesy of first-quarter fund-raising results. As for Senator Barack Obama, the $25 million man, the lights can only burn brighter.

With $23 million in the bank, Romney blew past “front runner” Rudy Giuliani ($15 million) and nearly doubled John McCain’s take. The McCain campaign’s excuse that he won’t “officially” announce his candidacy until April 25 required that no one notice he has been running for eight years and was the anointed favorite until about a month ago. McCain used to joke that the media was his base; there were pundits who loved his willingness to say the unpopular thing–as long as it was unpopular with his party and not with them. Now the conventional wisdom has redeployed, and McCain gets to see if there is any edge in being viewed once more as an underdog.

Meanwhile Romney, the true prince, plays the insurgent–even though this outsider owns a hunk of Jeb Bush’s political operation, various A-list media consultants, a G.O.P. brand name and a gilded Rolodex. Running on the theme of bringing change to Washington is a little awkward when his party has been running it for most of the past seven years. But Romney made his name and fortune as a turnaround artist, and his is a party badly in need of a paint job.

The only thing more stunning than Hillary Clinton’s $26 million was Obama’s ability to match it. She has eight years in the White House and two Senate campaigns’ worth of connections. He has the stuff dreams are made of–and 100,000 donors, twice as many as Clinton. Whereas Romney leveraged the faithful networks of Mormons and Wall Street, Obama tapped both Net roots and grass roots, collecting nearly $7 million online. The Democrats together outraised the G.O.P. by 50%. In what is likely to be the first $2 billion campaign, money may not be the most important thing–but it’s more important than ever.

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