Capitol Idea: Will Obama Get Re-elected? Don’t Just Watch The Polls; Instead, Follow The Money

The Obama re-election campaign faces an important fundraising deadline on Friday.

Love him or hate him, you probably want to know whether Barack Obama will be re-elected to a second term next year.

One might turn to the endless stream of opinion polls — which increasingly have been spelling doom and gloom for the president’s 2012 prospects.

Beware of these polls, however, especially this far out from an election.

They can shift dramatically, in a fairly short of period of time.

Just ask Scott Brown.

The first Massachusetts Republican elected to the Senate in a generation, Brown was riding high just weeks ago. The polls had him beating all potential opponents, including Democrat Elizabeth Warren.

Now that Warren has begun her campaign in earnest, however, she recently took a small lead over the incumbent.

This is not to say Brown is certainly headed for defeat. Rather, because opinion polls can tilt this way and that, they aren’t necessarily the best predictor at this time.

To get a clearer picture of Obama’s chances to hold the White House, you need to follow the money. Instead of the polls, watch the president’s fundraising.

Barack Obama is a campaign fundraising titan, hauling in a record $750 million in 2008. His campaign officials have suggested they want to do better for 2012, and Obama could become the first presidential candidate to raise $1 billion.

He’s already gotten off to a good start. He brought in $86 million just in the second quarter of this year alone, setting another record.

It also was much more than the $35 million combined that all of his potential Republican rivals raised during the same period.

It’s also important to note that most of that $86 million came not from wealthy contributors, but rather from small-dollar donors. The average contribution was $69.

So this is Obama’s baseline. This is a good time to return to watching his fundraising because the deadline for third-quarter fundraising is Friday.

Of course, you can compare Obama’s numbers to those of his GOP opponents in absolute dollar terms to see how they stack up. Does Obama stay way out ahead, or do the Republicans start closing the money gap?

But as the numbers come in, you can start asking other questions, too.

For instance, the Obama campaign reported 552,462 donors in the second quarter. Does that figure go up, or down in the third?

How the president stacks up against the Republicans will be important, but even if he holds a commanding lead, that’s not necessarily the determining factor.

That’s because even if the Republican nominee is behind in fundraising, the fact is that there will be enough outside “super PACs” and other groups ready to jump in and help fill the gap with their own attack ads.

Instead, it will be more important to watch the internals of the Obama fundraising.

Do his supporters continue to show the same commitment to the campaign, quarter after quarter? Do they remain sufficiently confident, or at least hopeful, of an Obama win that they are willing, in the parlance of Obama 2012 campaign manager Jim Messina to continue “to own a piece of this campaign”? Or do they jump ship by closing their wallets?

That level of enthusiasm will say much about whether Barack Obama will once again be taking the oath of office.

By watching these numbers unfold through the campaign, you will have an understanding of where the president stands that is deeper than whatever the polls written in quicksand proclaim at any given moment.

Scott Nance has covered Congress and the federal government for more than a decade. Capitol Idea is his regular column from Washington. This article was first published as “Will Obama Get Re-elected? Don’t Just Watch The Polls; Instead, Follow The Money” on Blogcritics.

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