Do the Presidential Campaigns Have More Cash Than They Can Spend?

Recent ad buys indicate this year's record fundraising has left the presidential campaigns with excess cash.


Barack Obama and Mitt Romney pass each other in Boca Raton, Fla., after the third presidential debate.

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Barack Obama and Mitt Romney have meticulously raised around $2 billion this election, and along the way have constantly solicited more in order to keep up with the other side. But with Election Day less than one week away, it appears both have raised more money than they know what to do with.

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In previous presidential elections, campaigns had a limited amount of money to spend on advertising, because public financing capped their fundraising totals. They had a limited amount of air time they could buy, and therefore had to prioritize which states to buy it in. As a result, campaigns typically cast wide nets with advertising early on — in 2008, only eight states were exempt from presidential advertising, according to an analysis by Wesleyan Media Project. Once it was clear which states should be targeted, campaigns honed in on fewer and fewer states. As a result, most states saw some advertising during the campaign, but as Election Day neared, only the closest states did.

That strategy seems to have changed this year. For most of the campaign, advertising was much more concentrated on swing states than in years past, even though the candidates had nearly unlimited money at their disposal. As of October 21, 18 states had been mostly left alone by presidential ads, according to Wesleyan Media.

But heading into the home stretch this year, instead of "pulling out" of states and honing in even further, the campaigns kept spending.

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The unrestricted fundraising of the post-Citizens United era could explain why. As of Oct. 17, Romney and Obama had $101 million and $113 million, respectively, to spend over the final two weeks. In 2008, Republican nominee John McCain had $84 million to spend over the final two months.

In other words, Obama and Romney have no need for state-by-state spending triage. In fact, advertising buys indicate they have realized they have more money than they really need.

Romney's super PAC, Restore Our Future, dropped $1.1 million on advertising in Minnesota, where Obama has led comfortably throughout and where statistical models indicate he has a 98 percent chance of winning. The group also bought about $700,000 of airtime in New Mexico and $2.1 million in Pennsylvania, both states where Obama has led throughout. The group has framed the buys as an indication of Romney's momentum and a way to get their opponent to spend resources.

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"The Romney momentum is growing and the electoral field keeps expanding," Charlie Spies, Restore Our Future's treasurer, said in a statment. "The Obama campaign has been forced to advertise in Pennsylvania and Michigan."

The Obama campaign has said it would match each of the Republicans' ad buys, indicating they aren't exactly hurting for cash either.

"We're matching states where they go up," an Obama campaign aide told the Washington Post. "We're not going to let them make a play anywhere."

Had either campaign considered these states a priority before, they likely would have indicated that by sending the candidate or his running mate there to campaign. Yet since the Democratic National Convention, the candidates and their running mates have held 188 campaign events, and not a single one in either Minnesota or New Mexico, according to Romney and Ryan have each visited Pennsylvania - once.

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Seth Cline is a reporter for U.S. News and World Report. You can follow him on Twitter or reach him at