Election 2008

Obama's $150 Million Changing Rules Of The Game

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Sen. Barack Obama campaigns in Fayetteville, N.C. i

Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama (D-IL) campaigns Sunday at the Crown Center Coliseum in Fayetteville, N.C. Joe Raedle/Getty Images hide caption

toggle caption Joe Raedle/Getty Images
Sen. Barack Obama campaigns in Fayetteville, N.C.

Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama (D-IL) campaigns Sunday at the Crown Center Coliseum in Fayetteville, N.C.

Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Money and influence always loom large in presidential campaigns, and Barack Obama this weekend racked up big scores in both categories.

On Sunday, he won the endorsement of an influential Republican: former Secretary of State Colin Powell. It came the same day his campaign revealed that it raised an astonishing $150 million in September alone.

Obama has set several money records in his two-year White House run. Each time, it seemed he might be changing the rules of the fundraising game, provided he could keep it up.

Now it looks as though he truly has. Running on momentum from August, his previous record-setting month at $66 million, Obama more than doubled that total.

He also garnered 632,000 new donors, according to the campaign. He now claims more than 3 million contributors and an average contribution of just $86 per donor.

The campaign announced these mind-boggling stats in a video, e-mailed to supporters Sunday morning. Campaign manager David Plouffe gave thanks, and then asked for more.

"Even though we had such a great September financially, we need to ask you to continue to contribute," Plouffe told supporters.

Republican John McCain appeared to take the news in stride.

He has repeatedly criticized Obama for walking away from a previous pledge to use public financing, even though both Obama and McCain turned down public funds in the primaries because the spending limits were too low.

McCain chose to take public funds for the fall general election campaign, receiving $84 million from the Treasury. But he can't collect any private money. In August, the last month he was able to, he collected $52 million.

On Sunday, McCain was on Fox News Sunday, where he quickly tagged Obama as the first major-party candidate to reject public financing for the fall campaign.

"First time, first time since the Watergate scandal," McCain said. "And I can tell you this: That has unleashed now in presidential campaigns a new flood of spending that will then cause a scandal. And then we will fix it again. But Sen. Obama has broken it."

The Obama campaign is deploying its cash to dominate the airwaves and to challenge McCain in traditionally Republican states.

"We're always on the lookout for expansion. And West Virginia now is a state that we have to find more money, because we're playing in West Virginia," Plouffe said.

West Virginia Republican Party Chairman Douglas McKinney says Democrats are spending money in the state.

"We are seeing more and more offices spring up on the county level. And I read in the state newspapers that they are bringing in numbers of paid workers across the state," he said.

McKinney says he isn't worried about McCain in West Virginia. But the state ballot has a lot of other races: governor, attorney general and secretary of state, in addition to agriculture commissioner and two state Supreme Court seats.

Obama's big money could change things all the way down the ballot, especially because West Virginia is among the few states that allow straight party-line voting.

"In the last election, it was the biggest straight ticket voting in the history of the state," says McKinney, who says a big factor in that was money.

Tony Corrado, a political scientist at Colby College in Maine who specializes in campaign finance, says having unlimited money in the final two weeks means that Obama can go into big TV markets, while McCain is buying in small ones.

Obama also can build up his ground operations at the same time, Corrado says, and because he doesn't have to depend on his national party apparatus for help, his campaign has more strategic control.

At some point, Corrado suggests, it may be too much.

"They'll probably reach a law of diminishing returns. But that's a point that a presidential campaign has never really reached before."

And it's a point that, until now, presidential candidates could only dream of.



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