Wednesday, February 01, 2006

The MoneyGoRound, Pt. 1

Yesterday was Moneyday – the deadline for campaigns to file quarterly fundraising reports. So of course, the papers and blogs are full or scorekeeping analysis.

While candidate-centered political analysis is often derisively described as “horserace politics,” a campaign is actually more like a decathlon – a long contest with multiple events whose eventual score totals determine the winner. As I see it, the events are: Endorsements, Money, Polling, Earned Media, Opposition Research, Primary, Airwar, Groundwar, Debates, General.

My breakdown of the "events" can be debated. But more importantly the analogy to the Olympic Decathlon can break down pretty quickly. A candidate’s score in the Endorsements event more profoundly affects her score in the Money event than an athlete’s score in the high jump affects the outcome of the 1500. Nonetheless, it is a more useful framework for keeping score than the simple race analogy where each piece of news is treated like a milepost: X is ahead in the poll! He’s winning! Y has more money! She’s winning! The point is, someone can be behind in Money, but make up ground in, say, Oppo Research or Earned Media and come out ahead. The interdependence of all these factors is a big reason why political prognostication tends to be a sucker's game.

So today’s event is Money. I know this because my inbox is full of press releases from campaigns with helpful updates on their fundraising. (Funny things happen when you blog, which is a topic for another post.) Generally, you can tell whose ahead -- they site their numbers and their opponents' numbers. The candidates playing catch-up just braveface their fundraising totals without acknowledging that someone else wants that job too.

Here’s a quick link list before moving on to broader points. The Secretary of State’s site has all the data for statewide candidates for state office (i.e., not Senate.) You can look for data for Federal races on the FEC website or on, but neither has the most recent data up yet. ABJ’s story leads with the silly suggestion that Petro's "edge" on Blackwell means something, but comes with a handy sidebar table of three races. The PD's lead similarly overblows Strickland's edge, though that could mean more down the road. John Ryan provides links and some Sherrod-leaning analysis in the Senate race. Psychobilly Dems offer an inside-the-numbers post that suggests, among other things, that the numbers for Eric Fingerhut may not be as grim as they appear. If I find anything else on the blogs, I'll update.

Updates: High and Broad posted handy lists showing contributions and cash-on-hand for gubernatorial contestents. (Pete Draganic apparently has $26.00 to play with.) Solon Democratic Club goes for the funny with highlights from campaign expense reports.

What does this all mean? Nothing and everything. The data reports don’t necessarily reflect pledged funds, personal wealth that may be brought to bear or, as the Blackwell campaign noted, debts carried forward. For this reason, differences even of tens of thousand of dollars are of little practical significance.

What these reports can tell you is who is out. Campaigns that are badly behind at this stage of the contest may not be able to catch up. Fingerhut, may have $1 million in "pledges, but is still shockingly behind.

Camp Fingerhut can only take comfort in being ahead of Flannery. Bryan Flannery believed he could put together a grassroots network to get his school funding proposal on the ballot, and apparently believed a similar groundswell would get him to Bexley. Wrong both times. People who work for him are as devoted as Deaniacs or Hackettfans. There just aren’t that many of them.

All in all, the most important effect of these numbers will be their influence on future numbers. This is Get Off the Fence time for those institutions and high-profile individuals who have held out thus far to side with a frontrunner. Those folks trying to decide which horse to back are looking hard at the money numbers, the poll numbers and whatever other tea leaves they rely on. That’s why the seemingly desperate cry from the Blackwell camp that Petro has debts not reflected in the report.