Obama’s Campaign: Juggernaut or Money Pit?

“$135 million.”

-- The outlays so far by President Obama’s re-election campaign, according to an Associated Press analysis -- $3 million more than the entire Republican field combined.

Why do the president and first lady spend so much time raising money? Because they have a lot of mouths to feed.

With already more than 500 paid staffers and campaign offices in 45 states, Barack Obama is on his way to building what would be the largest political operation in American history. But that also means it will be the most expensive.

As the first quarter of the year draws to a close, the Obamas have been fanning out to raise as much money as possible to avoid an upside-down balance sheet. He is passing the hat today in Maine and Vermont, and she’s wooing donors in San Francisco. Not exactly purple states.

Lots of fundraising is great, but only if it’s staying ahead of expenditures. The AP reports that Obama has massive overhead: $29.5 million on operations alone in the first two months of the year, including $6.3 million in payroll and $435,000 on rent and utilities.

The Obama strategy is clearly to build a war machine so massive that likely Republican nominee Mitt Romney will never be able to catch up.

Romney is finally sealing the deal in the Republican race with endorsements from conservative leaders like Rep. Paul Ryan and Sen. Marco Rubio. But Obama has taken the time Republicans spent in a fight among Romney and his remaining rivals to pile up $84.7 million in cash by the end of February.

But even such a seemingly enormous cash advantage is worth little if Obama is burning through his funds at such a blinding rate. While the campaign will not have to repeat the startup costs associated with buying computers and phones, the real cost of the campaign, hundreds of millions of dollars in campaign ads, haven’t yet begun.

There are two disadvantages with a campaign so large.

One is that big campaigns are generally not nimble ones, especially re-election efforts. The Bush 2004 re-election campaign was a juggernaut but was always at risk of becoming muscle-bound. Bushies who were trapped in a maze of conference calls and performance memos grew frustrated with time spent feeding the bureaucracy instead of wooing voters.

Even in 2008, when Obama had the advantage of tremendous grassroots support, his foot soldiers complained that the organization functioned from the top down. How much greater will the temptation be in Chicago this time to run a command-and-control campaign operation?

The biggest problem with juggernauts, though, is that they are so daggone expensive. Obama has had to take time out of his aggressive swing-state campaign schedule with increasing frequency to try to get Democratic donors to cough up. It’s understandable that his donations are lagging his 2008 pace, since he has not faced a primary challenge. But it should be alarming that he is behind George W. Bush’s 2004 fundraising clip, despite spending more time stroking donors and that Obama is way down in large donations.

This creates a dangerous cycle. Raising money in small increments is much more expensive than being able to just pocket fat checks from maxed-out donors. Direct mail, Web ads, email solicitations and phone banks are costly. The more money you need, the more money you spend trying to raise it… which means you need even more money.

Being stuck in this cash-sucking cycle drive candidates to do things they otherwise might not. Last month, Obama gave his blessing to a political action committee run by his former aides despite having long denounced the involvement of such groups in politics. But Democratic donors did not come through, save one: chat show host Bill Maher. His $1 million was a nice bump, but not worth the damage it did to the Obama brand. Just as the Obama team was trying to accuse Republicans of being he-man women haters, they had to defend leaning heavily on the support of a guy who has attacked female politicians in some of the nastiest terms possible.

Romney is in a pickle on cash, and will have to spend too much of his time trying to raise money, especially from the rich folks Obama has been preemptively attacking – those in the financial sector and the energy industry. If Romney is forced to hold multiple fundraisers with these Obama targets, it will add to the Democratic claim that wealthy Romney is a friend to the plutocrats and an enemy of the working class.

Obama hopes that Romney is scraping for cash in the months to come as he tries to staff up, even though the Republican National Committee has set aside some substantial funds to help him get off the ground.

But as their current cash scramble shows, the Obamas are worried that their juggernaut might be a bit of a money pit.

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The Day in Quotes

"I think we need to coalesce behind Mitt Romney. He is the best guy for the job, will make the best president."

-- House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wisc., on “FOX & Friends” endorsing former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney for president.

“We think America’s on the wrong track. We believe the president is bringing us toward a debt crisis and a welfare state in decline.”

-- House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wisc., in remarks on the House floor Thursday prior to passage of his 2013 budget blueprint.

“The Ryan Republican budget would give every millionaire an average tax cut of at least $150,000, while preserving taxpayer giveaways to oil companies and breaks for Wall Street hedge fund managers.”

-- White House Press Secretary Jay Carney briefing reporters.

"I'm a big believer in prayer and I engage in it, but I don't use it for legislation. But maybe that's what we need to do."

-- House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., talking to reporters after the passage of a 90-day extension of current federal transportation spending and gasoline taxes. Her call for God’s intercession involves the passage of a long-term spending package before the November elections.

“In terms of me, I’ll be much more ready four years from now.”

-- Gov. Chris Christie, R-N.J, in an interview with cable network owner and prominent Democrat Oprah Winfrey when asked about his presidential ambitions.

“No president, and I would argue in the 20th century and including now the 21st century, has had as many serious problems which are cases of first-instance laid on (Barack Obama’s) table. Franklin Roosevelt faced more dire consequences, but in a bizarre way it was more straightforward.”

-- Vice President Joe Biden campaigning at the Italian Community Center in Milwaukee.

"I never had an interest in being a mayor 'cause that's a real job.  You have to produce.  That's why I was able to be a senator for 36 years."

-- Vice President Joe Biden talking about former Mayor Richard Daley at a Chicago fundraiser.

“I do think it’s time for the party to get behind Governor Romney. And (former first lady Barbara Bush) was reminding me Kenny Rogers sang, ‘It’s time when to hold ’ em and time when to fold ’ em.’”

-- Former President George H.W. Bush talking to reporters about the trailing Republican presidential contenders at an appearance to formally endorse former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney for president.

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And Now, A Word From Charles.

“Here he is standing up in the Rose Garden saying I am for all sources of energy. This is three days after the EPA issued a regulation that was overlooked in all the Supreme Court stuff about Obamacare.It’s a regulation that means the end of the building of any new coal fire plant in America, ever.It’s the end of the coal industry in time as the old plants age. Millions out of work, the coal industry will shut down in time, raising electricity rates and destroying a great natural resource we have. Of course, if you are Obama, who needs coal? We have algae.”

-- Charles Krauthammer on “Special Report with Bret Baier.”

Chris Stirewalt joined Fox News Channel (FNC) in July of 2010 and serves as digital politics editor based in Washington, D.C.  Additionally, he authors the daily "Fox News First" political news note and hosts "Power Play," a feature video series, on FoxNews.com. Stirewalt makes frequent appearances on the network, including "The Kelly File," "Special Report with Bret Baier," and "Fox News Sunday with Chris Wallace."  He also provides expert political analysis for Fox News coverage of state, congressional and presidential elections.