COMMENTS: Game On After Money Primary

Results are in for the first informal contest of Campaign 2008, the so-called money primary. Every campaign is required to declare how much it raises quarter-by-quarter. So the fundraising data for the period that ended in March provides concrete facts to be reported as headline news. Each network led with the Story of the Day, the strength of Barack Obama in the Democratic horse race, virtually neck-and-neck with Hillary Rodham Clinton.

This truly was horse race coverage. None of the comparisons between Rodham Clinton and Obama touched on differences in ideology or in policy priorities or in sociological or demographic appeals to various voting blocs. Instead CBS' Gloria Borger, for example, played the expectations game. She called Rodham Clinton a "fundraising superstar;" she quoted top HRC aide Terry McAuliffe downplaying Obama's success; she cited the candidate's husband as "the popular Networker-in-Chief."

Obama's $25m may actually represent a stronger showing than Rodham Clinton's $26m. First, it was raised from "100,000 individual donors," noted NBC's Andrea Mitchell, twice as many as Rodham Clinton's. Second, it can almost all be spent in the primary contest, ABC's Jake Tapper (subscription required) pointed out, as opposed to HRC's funds, much of which are earmarked for a general election campaign. Third, CBS' Borger added, Obama proved stronger in online fundraising by a margin of $6.9m to $4.2m.

NBC and ABC both offered political analysis of the Democratic field from their Sunday morning anchors. George Stephanopoulos of ABC's This Week observed that so much of Rodham Clinton's candidacy is "based on the idea that she is the establishment, inevitable candidate, the most electable one." If that image is pierced, voters might defect. Tim Russert (at the tail of the Mitchell videostream) of NBC's Meet the Press, too, declared that Rodham Clinton's "aura of inevitability" has now evaporated. "Obama has demonstrated to the Democratic Party that he is a force and he will stay in the primary game." Russert rehearsed the battle's buzzwords: "young," "fresh," "novel" against "experience," "tested."

Only CBS assigned a correspondent to cover the fundraising on the Republican side. Bill Plante outlined what John McCain now has to do after falling behind Mitt Romney: the onetime campaign finance reform leader has "no choice" but to call on the "movers and shakers who can raise $100,000 or $200,000 each" in order to compete in next February's near-national Super Tuesday primary. "The bottom line is still the same--money. This time spending could reach $1bn."


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