Obama Pins Hopes on Fundraising Power

Sen. Barack Obama is the first major-party candidate since the 1970s to bypass public financing in a presidential campaign. The Democrat is counting on his fundraising success to give him a big advantage in the fall race.

Copyright © 2008 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Good morning. I'm Steve Inskeep.

Barack Obama is collecting enough donations that he is comfortable saying no to nearly $85 million. That's the amount of public financing he's turning down. By doing that, Obama frees himself to raise and spend even more this fall. And he's already spending money to position himself for the general election.

NPR's David Greene is traveling with the Obama campaign, joins us now from Chicago. And David, what made the criticism that Obama's already getting for turning public financing worth it to him?

DAVID GREENE: Well, I guess the big question for Obama, Steve, was why not do this, given how much cash he can rake in from this network of donors that he has. And, you know, it looks like there's the potential he could even get several hundred million dollars of his own money coming in if he does the fundraising on his own this fall. It does mean he's going to have a different kind of schedule than we've seen in other recent campaigns.

He's likely going to have to hold fundraisers and he'll have to have staff focused on reaching out to donors and raising money, even as they're focused on trying to win these swing states. But the Obama campaign made the argument that they'll be up against the, you know, these independent, so-called 527 groups on the Republican side spending a lot of money. They said they have to do anything they can to compete, and if Obama has this ability to bring in a lot of cash that they felt that they may as well use it.

INSKEEP: Does that sort of arms race explanation hold up? The other guy is going to be armed so I need to be even more heavily armed? Does that hold up? Because as you know Republicans are saying he made different promises months ago.

GREENE: We'll see if voters think it holds up, I mean, and that's where the risk is. You know, if Obama looks like he's not standing by principle. He did make this early commitment to public financing and pledged to work with the GOP nominee to come up with a way to use public financing. And now the argument from the Obama campaign is that the financing system, the public financing system, is flawed and they say they made an effort to work out a way to fix it with John McCain.

The McCain camp has a different view. They say there wasn't really an honest effort by Obama to work out a deal to fix this. And they say, here's a guy, Barack Obama, who says he's transparent and a different kind of candidate and he's turning to this, you know, notion of raising tons of money to run for president.

And so the question is are voters really going to pay attention to this? Will they care? And the McCain camp, I think, wants to suggest that Obama may have switched positions. He was dishonest and now he's trying to benefit himself and going a different way. But all along we saw these stories as, you know, raising questions about McCain's fundraising during the primaries and now we have these stories about Obama.

You know, is it muddled enough that voters are just going to want to move on to some real issues?

INSKEEP: Of course Obama is hoping that voters will want to pay attention to ads like this one that he's now putting out, spending money now to reintroduce himself to people.

(Soundbite of advertisement)

Senator BARACK OBAMA (Democrat, Illinois, Presumptive Presidential Nominee): I'm Barack Obama. America's a country of strong families and strong values. My life's been blessed by both. I was raised by a single mom and my grandparents. We didn't have much money, but they taught me values straight from the Kansas heartland where they grew up.

INSKEEP: And, David Greene, did you notice that he associates himself there with Kansas, with the heartland, not necessarily with the big city.

GREENE: Yeah, you get the sense he's really trying to establish the story of him before his opponent does that and really tried to tell his story before someone else does. And this ad is running in 18 states. I think it's also a statement that he has moved aggressively into this general election.

INSKEEP: Let's listen to the end of that Barack Obama commercial.

(Soundbite of advertisement)

Sen. OBAMA: I approved this message because I'll never forget those values. And if I have the honor of taking the oath of office as president, it will be with a deep and abiding faith in the country I love.

INSKEEP: Kind of subtle there, but when you have him explicitly say I have faith in the country I love, is Barack Obama trying to push back on some of the criticism and the questioning that has already begun on the Republican side, suggesting that maybe he's not fully devoted to this country?

GREENE: You know, I'm sure he will be. A lot of what he did this week, Steve, was to try and get the party mobilized. He was so busy holding events that weren't that sexy to cover, not making the headlines, but sitting down with the Hispanic Caucus, the Congressional Black Caucus in Washington, union leaders. He's meeting Democratic governors today, and there are some questions about whether the party still has some divisions left over that he needs to deal with.

At a rally in Detroit, Jennifer Granholm, the Democratic governor of Michigan who supported Hillary Clinton, brought up Hillary Clinton in the rally. And there were a lot of boos in the audience, and Barack Obama said that's something I'm going to take care of and within weeks this party is going to be ready for the general election.

INSKEEP: That's NPR's David Greene. He's in Chicago traveling with the Obama campaign. David, thanks.

GREENE: Anytime, Steve.

Copyright © 2008 NPR. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to NPR. This transcript is provided for personal, noncommercial use only, pursuant to our Terms of Use. Any other use requires NPR's prior permission. Visit our permissions page for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.

Support comes from: