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The following is presented as part of The Columbian’s Opinion content, which offers a point of view in order to provoke thought and debate of civic issues. Opinions represent the viewpoint of the author. Unsigned editorials represent the consensus opinion of The Columbian’s editorial board, which operates independently of the news department.

Leubsdorf: Campaigns need their cash

Both Biden, Trump face challenges that are costly to address

By Carl P. Leubsdorf
Published: April 8, 2024, 6:01am

Money, the legendary California Assembly Speaker Jesse Unruh said, “is the mother’s milk of politics.”

Judging from the way cash is flowing into the Biden and Trump campaign coffers, each of the major 2024 presidential campaigns has no shortage of mothers.

Late last month, President Joe Biden’s reelection campaign raised $25 million at a massive New York fundraiser at Radio City Music Hall that featured former Presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama in an early show of Democratic unity.

Not to be outdone, former President Donald Trump hoped to raise $33 million at a reception at his Mar-a-Lago estate, bringing together some of the GOP’s wealthiest fundraisers, including some heretofore cool to his latest presidential bid.

With all that cash pouring in, the big question is how much difference the millions of dollars being spent on commercials, events and campaign structures will make in a race between two of the best-known candidates in American history, whose activities and comments are reported daily.

Still, there is general agreement in the political community that the Biden campaign needs those large amounts of cash to overcome the president’s historically low job approval numbers, while Trump needs to pay the large legal bills that have created a shortage of campaign funds.

So far, as has been widely reported, Biden’s reelection campaign has achieved a wide financial advantage over Trump’s. At the end of February, the Biden-Harris campaign had $71 million in ready cash on hand, compared to Trump’s $33.5 million.

In addition, the Democratic National Committee had $25.6 million and the Republican National Committee $11.3 million, bringing the Democrats’ current cash advantage to more than $50 million.

Besides paying considerable travel costs for the presidential entourage to make appearances, Biden’s campaign is spending substantial sums on targeted paid media, both on-air and digital, and on building a campaign infrastructure in the crucial battleground states.

In 2020, many Democrats believed their party’s campaign suffered more from the limits it imposed on person-to-person campaigning because of the COVID pandemic than their GOP counterparts.

The Biden-Harris campaign recently announced the hiring of 100 additional field staffers in key states and a $30 million ad campaign directed at historically reliable Democratic groups that polls show have a lack of enthusiasm for the president’s reelection, including Black, Hispanic and Asian voters.

Meanwhile, the Trump campaign’s political efforts have been hampered by the diversion of millions of dollars in campaign funds for the former president’s massive legal bills. Over the past year, the Republican National Committee and Trump campaign groups have spent more than $60 million in legal fees for the attorneys helping him contest felony indictments in Florida, Georgia, New York and Washington, D.C.

Trump’s strategists contend his legal battles are politically beneficial since they bolster his argument that he is the victim of persecution. But they drain both money and time away from actual campaigning. In recent weeks, Trump has appeared in far more courtrooms than rallies.

In addition, his recent takeover of the Republican National Committee structure created internal chaos, including layoffs of party field workers assigned to help candidates for lower federal and state offices.

On the other hand, there is little question that Biden’s reelection campaign needs its massive war chest to overcome the White House’s failure to convince voters that he is a consequential president who has improved the lives of the American people. Recently, there are signs that voters are beginning to connect their own economic well-being with the statistics showing the economy’s continued strength.

The Democrats are also using their funding advantage to challenge ballot accession efforts by independent presidential candidates like Robert F. Kennedy Jr. and, if it crystallizes, the promised candidacy from the bipartisan group No Labels.

And the campaign has started to target Republicans and independents who voted against Trump in the GOP primaries. A new ad is aimed at supporters of Nikki Haley, spotlighting Trump’s characterization of her as “Bird Brain.”

In the end, the campaign’s most high-profile events may have more of an impact than these targeted campaign efforts. But every campaign would like to have the financial advantage that Biden’s enjoys now.