Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Ohio Senate: DeWine's Imaginary Cash Advantage Over Brown

It sometimes seems an unalterable truism in the American political system that, unless a Democrat happens to have been born into an incredibly wealthy family, his or her Republican opponent will always have more cash in the bank with which to wage a scorched-earth smear campaign to victory. Similar to how much better women often have to be in the workplace to keep pace with a less-qualified male, Democratic candidates need to constantly be one better than their GOP foes to run a competitive race.

Unfair to be sure but, in a system bought and paid for by corporate entities and lobbying groups, it's an advantage that Republicans always seem to have.

And even in the wake of news that the national Republican party is bailing on Mike DeWine in the Ohio Senate race -- basically conceding the contest from three weeks out to Democratic Congressman Sherrod Brown -- the GOP and the press continue to regard it as a non-event, based on the whopping cash advantage DeWine is said to enjoy over Brown.

"Mr. DeWine has proved to be a successful fund-raiser on his own, and, with $4.5 million on hand, already enjoys a large financial advantage over his Democratic opponent, Representative Sherrod Brown," said the New York Times story Monday, in which the Republican party is described as moving on to more winnable races in Missouri, Tennessee and Virginia. "He is not dependent on financial support to keep campaigning."

After all, the thinking seems to be, Federal Election Commission (FEC) reports for the period ending September 30 say that DeWine has $4.5 million in the bank, compared to the $1.3 million held by the Brown campaign. Republicans must also reason that no matter what the polls say about Brown being significantly ahead among Ohio voters -- including a stunning CBS/New York Times poll released Tuesday night, showing Brown with a 14-point lead -- a $3.2 million cash advantage will buy a lot of doctored 9/11 video and photoshopped pictures of Brown having tea and couscous with Osama bin Laden.

Well, not so fast. When you look under the hood of the DeWine campaign, it appears that lofty estimates of his bankroll may be quite exaggerated. Indeed, DeWine may be so light in the wallet that he's at most even, or at worst, behind Brown in cash on hand.

Media analysts familiar with the Ohio Senate race have confirmed to me, after a canvas of every television broadcast and cable outlet in the Buckeye State, that two things are true: Sherrod Brown has reserved more than $2.5 million of air time for the final two weeks of the campaign. Likewise, Mike DeWine has booked $3.3 million of broadcast and cable time for the two weeks ending November 6.

The critical difference? The Brown campaign already paid for their time back in the third quarter (July-September), while DeWine has yet to pay a cent for his time -- hence DeWine's contrived cash advantage over Brown.

It's a bit like a coworker and I both coming to work with 20 bucks in our pockets, both destined to spend $10.00 on lunch, but I go at noon and he goes at 1:00 PM. Sure, he'll have more money than me at 12:55 PM, but that's not going to last very long.

Similarly, equalizing these campaign numbers by deleting the $3.3 million that DeWine still needs to pay for his only hope of defeating Brown from his recorded, third-quarter cash on hand, shows that Bush's Republican rubber-stamp suddenly has only $1.2 million in the bank compared to Brown's $1.3 million.


But by not actually purchasing his air time in advance, the DeWine camp has been able to sustain the illusion that they're flush with a lot of money that can be used to sidetrack Brown in the final weeks of the campaign and, at the same time, hide DeWine's lackluster fundraising performance. In other words, that's $3.3 million worth of smoke and mirrors.

In addition, FEC documents reveal that Brown outraised DeWine in the third quarter, pulling in $2.9 million compared to the Republican's $2.7 million.

So what do all these campaign-finance back flips mean? They mean that Senator DeWine is in deep crap financially and in a place that no incumbent wants to be -- way down in the polls and with a checkbook too light to make up the gap. And with the Republican National Committee pulling out and abandoning him to leave office a two-term Senator, it's going to be a long three weeks at DeWine campaign headquarters.