Power Play

As Obama Burns Through Cash, New Questions Arise About His Strategy

“I will not be heading to Charlotte for the national convention because I believe it is much more important to spend my time in Western Pennsylvania listening to the people about how we can create jobs for the region."

--- Rep. Mark Critz, D-Pa., in a statement explaining why he was joining a growing number of moderate Democratic incumbents in skipping their party’s September convention.

In May, President Obama had to dip into his campaign cash reserves for the first time in order to finance his massive and very expensive re-election effort.


Despite an unprecedented number of fundraisers by the president and a campaign organization constantly working to grind out $3 or $5 contributions from supporters online, Obama started May with $115 million in the bank, but ended with $110 million. He took in $39 million, but spent $44.6 million.

More On This...

That’s still a tremendous amount of money, but Obama now faces the reality that Republican Mitt Romney is catching up fast. Romney and the Republican National Committee brought in almost $77 million in May, far outstripping the $60 million combined for Obama and his party. The RNC now boasts $61 million in cash reserves. That’s not $110 million, but it’s getting closer.

Add in the fact that conservatives have been far more successful with creating and funding outside political groups than liberals, and one senses that the president could be swamped in spending by the end of the summer.

Obama’s relentless fundraising effort was intended to put the president in a position where he held a prohibitive cash advantage. But his numbers have not matched all the effort he and his party have poured into fundraising. For the president to already be dipping into savings is a sign of trouble for that strategy. The time to start tapping the war chest is Labor Day, not Memorial Day.

Democrats are trying to make a virtue of their disadvantage, trying to illicit more donations with calls for alarm and trying to make Obama a more sympathetic figure by saying that he is a victim of corporate villainy. Well, you have to say something, Power Play supposes.

This money miscalculation (remember the talk of the $1 billion campaign?) has cast longer shadows over Obama’s unconventional re-election strategy.

The Obama plan was about using very expensive techniques – lots of employees, lots of costly technology – to reanimate the dormant Obama coalition of 2008. Obama has spent months stroking different parts of his base: unions, Hispanics, single moms, same-sex marriage enthusiasts, black voters, college students, etc.

The big idea was that while Obama was going to have a tougher go than in 2008, the same coalition could lift him to a second term. Obama knew Republicans would be more unified than in 2008, but he figured he could triumph in a scorched-earth, base-versus-base election. The power of incumbency, especially as it relates to fundraising, counts for a lot, just not as much as Obama thought.

What Obama didn’t do was move to heal the deepest rifts in his party and broaden his appeal to more moderate voters. Having resisted the typical move to the middle in the second-half of his term, Obama was counting on his own ability to remake a coalition, not the resurrection of Democratic unity that flowered in the fall of 2008.

But if Obama can’t afford the kind of juggernaut he once expected he could and if the Red Team is going to out spend the Blue Team, there are new doubts about the whole idea of Obama muscling through a win on a strategy that looks a lot like a coast-to-coast effort in community organizing.

More and more Clinton Democrats are looking to distance themselves from Obama, like the moderate House members who have followed suit of the top West Virginia Democrats and said they will skip their party’s convention.

That significant figures in the Democratic Party can blow off the president and what was supposed to be his second ascension to Olympus with such impunity is a sign of things to come. And the fact that the president is now in a financial pickle will only embolden the moderates in his party to cast off the uncomfortable yoke of supporting Obama.


The Day in Quotes

“Attorney General Eric Holder’s refusal to fully disclose the documents associated with Operation Fast and Furious and President Obama’s assertion of executive privilege serves to compound this tragedy. It denies the Terry family and the American people the truth.”

-- Kent and Josephine Terry, parents of a Border Patrol agent killed by drug runners armed with weapons that flowed into Mexico as part of a botched gunrunning sting, in a statement.

“Can you please provide a more precise description of the scope of your executive privilege claim? Are you asserting it only with regard to documents called for by the subpoena that may have involved communications with you? Or are you extending your claim to records of purely internal Justice Department communications, not involving the White House?”

-- Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, the ranking Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, in a letter to President Obama.

“An attorney general who I suppose you would hold in higher regard was briefed on these kinds of tactics in an operation called Wide Receiver and did nothing to stop them — nothing. Three hundred guns, at least, walked in that instance.”

-- Attorney General Eric Holder in testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee last week accusing his predecessor, Michael Mukasey, of allowing the same tactics that were used in the now infamous “Fast and Furious” sting. Republican senators asked for proof. On Wednesday, Holder’s office informed the committee that he wished to retract the statement.

"I could have arrested Karl Rove on any given day. I'm not kidding. There's a prison here in the Capitol ... If we had spotted him in the Capitol, we could have arrested him."

-- House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi in a roundtable with reporters, as quoted by the Huffington Post.

"You know, she sounds a little bit like Inspector Clouseau.”

-- Karl Rove, talking about Nancy Pelosi “On the Record with Greta Van Susteren.”


The Big Numbers

“29 Percent”

-- Portion of respondents in a Gallup poll who expressed confidence in the public school system, 5 points lower than last year and the lowest level recorded since the organization starting asking the question. In 1973, it was 58 percent.

“18 percent”

-- Portion of respondents in a Gallup poll who said they would not vote for a well-qualified Mormon candidate for president, down 4 points from last year and 6 points lower than in 2007.

“4 points”

-- President Obama’s advantage over Republican Mitt Romney in the latest Quinnipiac University survey of Florida voters. In May, Romney led by 6 points.

“1.9 percent”

-- Federal Reserve forecast of U.S. economic growth rate for the year, down a full point since April.


And Now, A Word From Charles

“There's no way that the mainstream media, which have studiously tried to ignore [the Fast and Furious scandal] can do that anymore. In fact, as you pointed out, NBC, which has shown exactly ten seconds of coverage of this on its Evening News in the last year-and-a-half, is now going to have to explain the whole thing since the viewership has no idea what it's about. So, number one, it becomes huge national issue."

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


Chris Stirewalt is digital politics editor for Fox News, and his POWER PLAY column appears Monday-Friday on FoxNews.com. Catch Chris Live online daily at 11:30amET  at  http:live.foxnews.com.

Chris Stirewalt joined Fox News Channel (FNC) in July of 2010 and serves as politics editor based in Washington, D.C.