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How campaign money spent, not how much raised, is now key

By Allison Brennan, CNN
updated 9:27 AM EDT, Thu September 13, 2012
Both campaigns, political strategists say, will have enough money to remain competitive headed into Election Day.
Both campaigns, political strategists say, will have enough money to remain competitive headed into Election Day.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Obama, Romney campaigns smashing fundraising records
  • Campaigns will have enough money to see them through the election, political strategists agree
  • Online targeting will get out the vote more this year than in 2008
  • Former DNC Chairman: "I would much rather be President Obama today than Governor Romney"

Washington (CNN) -- The presidential campaigns are smashing fundraising records but, with less than two months before Election Day, the size of their already bloated coffers will become less important than how that money is spent.

Strategists and fundraisers from both parties agree the Obama and Romney campaigns will have plenty of cash to see them through what Democratic strategist and CNN contributor Paul Begala calls "the most important stretch of the election."

The Obama campaign has raised approximately $755 million so far and the Romney camp has totaled more than $710 million, according to Federal Election Commission records and figures released by the campaigns.

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President Barack Obama, who just announced a massive television buy in the key battleground state of Florida, is close to matching his historic in 2008 fundraising, while Mitt Romney has nearly doubled what Sen. John McCain raised in a losing effort.

"[Neither] side is going to have a significant financial advantage over the other," said Keith Appell, a Republican strategist and senior vice president at CRC Public Relations adding that the money issue is overblown at this point.

Former Democratic National Committee Chairman Terry McAuliffe said the same thing.

"Both sides are going to have the sufficient funds to get their message out," said McAuliffe.

How will they do it?

Appell suggests that not only will television fundraising be important, but online advertising will play an important role in the election, more so than in 2008.

"That's where you have a bit of a difference, more of an opportunity than you had in the past elections," said Appell.

Obama campaign prepared to unleash huge Florida ad buy

Obama's Facebook page shows 28.4 million "likes," while Romney's page has a little more than 6.7 million. However, the number of people "talking about" the candidates is about equal at 3 million.

When it comes to social media, the reach is broad, Appell says and it's anyone's game.

"It's really more up for grabs than anybody thinks," said Appell. "This could make a difference especially when you're adept at reaching out online through social media in the individual states."

Romney hits harder as poll shows Obama bounce

And it also costs less.

"Money spent online is a fraction of what you spend on television," said Appell.

Still, the campaigns are hitting the battleground states hard with television ad buys.

Just after the Democratic National Convention ended in Charlotte, the Romney campaign announced an ad buy that targets the same eight battleground states that the Obama campaign targeted with their $77 million buy in early August.

Those states -- Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Nevada, Hew Hampshire, North Carolina, Ohio and Virginia -- are all toss-ups on CNN's Electoral Map.

It is in TV advertising that some political strategists suggest Romney could outspend and silence the Obama campaign in October.

Ryan going up with House re-election ads in Wisconsin

Rahm Emanuel changing roles

The Obama Campaign released fundraising numbers this week that showed it outraised the Romney camp by $3 million this month - $114 million to $111 million.

Although the two campaigns are neck-in-neck, their spending puts them behind in cash-on-hand at the end of July according to FEC filings.

The Romney campaign revealed it has $165.8 million cash-on-hand earlier this week, but the Obama campaign is not expected to release its numbers until right before the federal filing deadline in late September.

When it comes to Super PAC dollars, Democrats trail the Republicans by a wide margin.

Super PACs are independent groups that raise money from businesses, labor groups and individuals and have no spending limits. But they must operate independently of the campaigns, meaning they cannot coordinate their ad buys.

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, President Barack Obama's former chief of staff who orchestrated the 2006 Democratic takeover of the House in 2006, recently announced that he was moving to Priorities USA, the Democrats' largest Super PAC.

Emanuel talked about his decision on CNN's "The Situation Room" last week:

"The question is would I be more helpful to the president's reelection as co-chair of the campaign or helping Priorities," Emanuel told CNN's Wolf Blitzer last week. "And not his campaign, but his efforts. And so I am going to try to help him."

Emanuel's move, to some, signaled weakness in Democratic Super PACs, which were slow to attract donations after Obama dismissed them last year and called them a "threat to our democracy." His campaign reversed its decision with a campaign official saying in February: "We will not unilaterally disarm."

"[Rahm's move] is not a sign [Democrats are in trouble with their fundraising]; it is a DefCon1 catastrophe," said Mary Matalin, a Republican strategist and CNN contributor.

But McAuliffe said not to read too much into Emanuel's move.

Dems get boost as both parties seek to leverage conventions

"They want to raise sufficient funds to block what they're bragging about on the other side and he has the ability to go out and raise large checks, he did it," said McAuliffe, referring to the 2006 mid-term election.

Democratic fundraisers insist they are not concerned going forward.

"We've known from the beginning that Karl Rove, the Koch Brothers and other right-wing special interests would outspend us," Begala said, referencing the billionaire brothers who have written large checks to Republican Super PACs. "But we have to be competitive."

Democratic strategists say that they have the money they need to win in November.

"If you look at, we're playing in a basket of eight to ten states, that's it," McAuliffe said. "This money is going to go a long way in eight to ten states."

And coming off of a successful convention with a bump in the polls, McAuliffe is confident that Democrats are poised again to take the White House even without the money.

"I would much rather be President Obama today than Governor Romney," said McAuliffe.

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