Every presidential election, there's a new development that changes the nature of campaigns that one party, often the one out of power, takes advantage of. In 2008, it was the Obama team's impressive use of social media to connect with new young voters and expand the electorate. In 2004, it was the Bush campaign's savvy use of microtargeting technologies to identify narrow slices of the electorate, and get them to show up and vote Republican.
This year, it's the Republicans' adept and aggressive use of super PACs to even the financial playing field, blunting the often-massive money advantages that an incumbent president has at his disposal. With the emergence of American Crossroads, Crossroads GPS and Restore Our Future, a well-stocked Romney super PAC, the Obama fundraising juggernaut no longer looks so imposing. If Romney is the Republican nominee, he won't be overwhelmed with a wave of negative advertising, and will have the resources to fight back.
Take a look at the end-of-year numbers. The Obama campaign ended the year with $81.8 million cash-on hand - a very strong total. But the outside Democratic groups, especially the party's newly-created super PACs, haven't given him much assistance in the way of reinforcements. The Democratic National Committee has $12.6 million cash-on-hand to assist. But Priorities USA banked a meager $1.5 million, receiving money from just 42 individual donors in the last six months. The party's Congressional super PACs - Majority PAC and House Majority PAC -- also didn't bank much, $1.3 million and $1.17 million, respectively.
Meanwhile, the Romney campaign ended the year with $19.9 million in the bank, far less than the president's cash haul. But when you add in the outside groups, he's about at even strength. Romney's super PAC, Restore Our Future, banked $23.6 million at the end of the year, thanks to funding from venture capitalists aligned with Romney. American Crossroads, which is poised to play an outsized role in the presidential race, ended the year with $15.6 million cash-on-hand. And the RNC ended the year with more cash-on-hand than the DNC, banking $20 million. All told, that adds up to $79.1 million - and it doesn't include the cash-on-hand from Crossroads GPS, which doesn't file with the Federal Election Commission. But based on Crossroads' announced fundraising totals, it's logical to assume that they have around $15 million on-hand.
That brings the combined Obama + Democratic outside group totals to $98.3 million cash-on-hand, with the GOP groups tallying $94.1 million. Take out the Democratic groups strictly devoted to Congressional activities, and it's a virtual financial tie. With labor and environmental groups poised to help Obama's re-election, Democrats still could hold a narrow edge. But it's hardly the cash advantage that would allow Team Obama to run negative advertising uncontested against Romney, without an aggressive response.