Cash is king again in race to the White House

Fundraising had less of an impact four years ago because as a reality TV star, Trump was lavished with free media coverage

  
U.S. currency is seen in this picture illustration taken March 6, 2020.

U.S. currency is seen in this picture illustration taken March 6, 2020.

REUTERS/Mike Segar/Illustration

(The authors are Reuters Breakingviews columnists. The opinions expressed are their own.)

SAN FRANCISCO/NEW YORK - The race for the White House has become a dash for cash. In a sense, it’s a reversion to the norm. President Donald Trump beat Democratic rival Hillary Clinton in the 2016 U.S. election even though her war chest was bigger. He can’t count on that this time around.

Fundraising had less of an impact four years ago because as a reality TV star, Trump was lavished with free media coverage. No matter that his $433 million, including money raised from outside groups, was easily outpaced by Clinton’s $770 million. The coverage Trump received – worth over $4 billion, according to research firm mediaQuant – was roughly twice that given to his rival.

Trump still has the power of the presidency to get airtime, but Covid-19 has cut in. His daily virus briefings were initially a ratings hit but were later canceled as infections rose. He’s now holding rallies on a regular basis, but they are often complicated by local health restrictions and networks no longer provide wall-to-wall coverage.

He may also have squandered his two-year head start over Democrat Joe Biden. Since launching his re-election campaign in 2017, Team Trump has spent lavishly on staff, along with promotions such as a $10 million Super Bowl ad in January, before the Democrats had even chosen their nominee.

As things stood at the end of August, Biden had the edge financially. He and his Democratic allies had $466 million in cash at the end of that month compared to the $325 million lining the coffers of the other side. Biden will spend some $380 million nationally while Trump is forecast to spend around the same as four years earlier at $325 million, Advertising Analytics estimates. In key battleground states like Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Michigan, the contrast is even sharper, with Biden sometimes outspending Trump two to one. During their first debate on Tuesday night, the Biden campaign had its best single hour of fundraising ever, pulling in $3.8 million.

There’s still room for a spoiler – specifically, a billionaire or two. Trump has backers like casino magnate Sheldon Adelson. But the Democrats have people like former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg, who will spend $100 million in Florida alone. With the race so close, it’s friends with money who may shape the outcome.

CONTEXT NEWS

- Donald Trump’s campaign committee raised $476 million from Jan. 1, 2017 to Aug. 31, 2020, according to Federal Election Commission records. He had $121 million cash on hand at the end of that period.

- Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden’s campaign committee raised $541 million from April 1, 2019 to Aug. 31, 2020. It had $181 million in cash on hand at the end of that period. Separately, the Biden campaign had its best single hour of fundraising on Sept. 29, raising $3.8 million during the first presidential debate, Reuters reported.

- The candidates’ totals do not include money raised by outside groups such as so-called super political action committees.

(The authors are Reuters Breakingviews columnists. The opinions expressed are their own.)

(Editing by John Foley and Leigh Anderson) ((gina.chon@thomsonreuters.com; jennifer.saba@thomsonreuters.com; Reuters Messaging: gina.chon.thomsonreuters.com@reuters.net; jennifer.saba.thomsonreuters.com@reuters.net))

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