Rahm Emanuel's move from President Obama's re-election campaign to key fundraiser for the Democratic Super PAC Priorities USA Action signals that the president has fully embraced the necessity of landing big donor checks in the post-Citizens United era of no-limits fundraising.
And though Democrats are coming late to the game compared to the Republican Super PAC Restore Our Future, which has been backing rival Mitt Romney since the GOP primaries, several top Dems believe there is still plenty of time for Emanuel to make up ground. And he's got quite a way to go. Restore Our Future has spent $82.5 million this cycle compared to Priorities' $24.1 million, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
"It's not even close to being too late because this is the intensive period when we're going to be swamped by Super PAC ads," Illinois Democratic Sen. Dick Durbin told the Alley Friday.
Calling Emanuel "a fantastic fundraiser" Durbin recalled that shortly after joining Bill Clinton's presidential campaign, Emanuel set a goal on December 1 of raising $5 million by the end of the year, a particularly tough task considering that December is traditionally slow fundraising month. But, Durbin said, he did it.(A 1992 Chicago Magazine story recalled the same anecdote except with slightly different details. It put the number Emanuel raised at $3.3 million between November and the end of the year. Either way, the point stands.)
"He's more effective in this role at the end of the campaign. There are a lot of surrogates like me, but, when it comes to putting the money on the table, there's nobody better," said Durbin, a close ally of the president who introduced Obama before his speech at the Democratic National Convention on Thursday night.
Indeed, some Democrats believe that big money fundraising is the perfect role for a brass tacks pol like the Chicago mayor. The Obama campaign has the advantage of a better ground game and voter data file than Romney so it makes sense for Emanuel to jump from the official campaign to the shadow one, said one Democratic insider. "The Supers, that's the only stone left unturned."
With Emanuel's new role, Obama and the Democrats seem to have lost whatever reluctance they once had about raising unlimited sums of campaign cash.
Even Democratic Rep. Chris Van Hollen, who rails against the Citizens United Supreme Court decision that helped create Super PACs, is a fan of Emanuel's new role.
"I don't think we should fight with two hands tied behind our back and pulling Rahm more directly in the game, we can compete," Van Hollen told the Alley on the convention floor Thursday night. "Rahm has the ability to raise resources."
And that, of course, is the bottom line.