STEVE INSKEEP, host:
Here's a suggestion for state governments that need to raise a lot of money. Maybe the state - maybe your state, your state that is short of money should run for president, because that seems to be rather lucrative. President Obama's re-election committee is expected to raise at least one billion dollars. And Republicans have hopes that their nominee will reach that level, as well.
NPR's Peter Overby reports.
PETER OVERBY: The most telling amount in a presidential campaign is how much the winner raised. For President Obama in 2008, that number was nearly $746 million. It was double what then-President George W. Bush raised just four years earlier, which itself was double what Bush raised four years before that. It's the first time ever that presidential fundraising has shot up that fast, and it puts the Obama reelection campaign within easy reach of raising one billion dollars, a volume of cash that takes the campaign out of politics as usual.
Mr. BRAD ADGATE (Senior Vice President for Research, Horizon Media): He would be a top 100 advertiser. You know, it's what Home Depot spends, about a billion dollars a year.
OVERBY: That's Brad Adgate. He's the senior vice president for research at Horizon Media, a New York ad agency.
A billion dollars could buy up all the Super Bowl ads for four Super Bowls. But a presidential campaign, like any other advertiser, doesn't put all its money into TV. There are grass roots to mobilize and candidate trips to organize.
Still, Adgate says a billion-dollar campaign could dominate TV in the battleground states.
Mr. ADGATE: There are states that are going to be inundated. In fact, in, say, 2008, 87 percent of all local TV dollars spent went to just 11 states.
OVERBY: But the non-competitive states mostly get ignored, so the TV budget wouldn't have to be all that big.
Mr. ADGATE: You know, a few hundred million is more than enough.
OVERBY: That means President Obama and his challenger could spend millions on other media - everything from old-fashioned direct mail to Web advertising and ads on mobile devices.
Political scientist Tony Corrado, a specialist in political money, says that even in 2008, the Obama campaign was flush.
Dr. TONY CORRADO (Political Scientist): By October, some of the campaign insiders were saying that it was raining money.
OVERBY: And unlike 2008, the Republican nominee this time will likely be just as prosperous. Corrado foresees a billion-dollar contest for the nomination, and there are predictions of a quick $250 million infusion when it's locked up.
Mr. CORRADO: And if that's the case, we will certainly be entering a realm of presidential spending that we have never seen before.
OVERBY: This isn't the first time presidential fundraising has surged. Robert Mutch is a historian who's just finishing a book on presidential campaign cash. He points out two times when the contributions came flooding in.
The first was 1892 and 1896, when the Democrats went populist and anxious businessmen flocked to the GOP.
The second was in 1936. Franklin Roosevelt was enacting the New Deal while seeking a second term, and Republican presidential coffers doubled - again, thanks to corporate America.
Here's Robert Mutch.
Mr. ROBERT MUTCH (Historian): There was money from big business in 1936 - a big spike in that. Big business really went all out.
OVERBY: One or two billion-dollar candidates might also quash an old cliche about political money, that mandatory contribution limits choke the debate.
Former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay made the case on C-SPAN a few years ago.
Mr. TOM DELAY (Former Republican Representative, Texas; Former House Majority Leader): There's not enough money in politics. You know, Americans spend more on potato chips than they do on elections?
Mr. MUTCH: It's a cute little thing. Oh, Americans spent X amount of money on potato chips last year.
OVERBY: Again, historian Robert Mutch.
Mr. MUTCH: People have been using arguments like that. You know, back in the '30s, it was Wrigley's gum.
OVERBY: But the argument may need updating again.
The American Snack Food Association says potato chip sales are somewhere north of $3.5 billion. So, if we have one billion-dollar candidate here and another one there, and we throw in the conventions and some independent groups, then the 2012 presidential campaign may catch up with potato chips.
Peter Overby, NPR News, Washington.