What Would You Do With $96M in 80 Days?

John McCain and the RNC reported that they had $96 million of cash-on-hand from the beginning of August, which is somewhat impressive. WIth $84 million coming in from public financing, Rick Davis gave the AP some details on the media budget for the rest of the campaign:

"McCain's overall advertising budget for August is expected to exceed $20 million, and, by the convention in early September, Davis said McCain is on track to spend some $60 million on TV expenditures."

"Davis put the budget for September, October and the first few days of November at more than $100 million — including the taxpayer money and accounts the RNC shares with the campaign — and [Davis] said: 'We will start the general election fully flush.'"

But will TV ads really make or break the election this year? I questioned that a couple months ago, as did Steven Stark of the Boston Globe.

[Stark] begins by saying that the "era of TV advertising in presidential general elections is over" because it is a "victim of a new media age,"

Assuming these is a diminishing effectiveness, is the diminishing effectiveness of TV ads really a result of the rise of new media? The problems that Stark points out with presidential TV ads (lack of creativitiy, lack of "product to sell", etc.) seem to be problems associated with TV ads themselves and the medium that they are on. Sure, the Internet and TiVo have changed the way advertisers think, but Stark provides no real cogent explanation of whether new media is a cause or catalyst of the downfall of TV ads (if there is a downfall).

It seems to me that large media buys are targeted towards leaners and undecided voters who haven't completely made their mind up or have had no introduction to the candidates at all. With the extended campaign season, McCain and Obama now have to have nearly perfect identification with most voters (maybe McCain more so than Obama). So I'm almost convinced there has to be a more cost-efficient way to ID and communicate with leaners and undecideds; I'm not arguing to abolish TV ads entirely, but because of the amount of money it consumes, it also consumes most of the time on the integrated strategy.

So if a campaign does ramp down on media buys, where can the money be spent? Any good political investment has both great short term returns and long term potential:

  • Project "Voter ID 2.0" needs to get started. The RNC already has a strategic advantage over the DNC with VoterVault. Microtargeting has some benefits, but has some myths associated with it. Further identifying voter's political motivation as well as  what mix of traditional and new media they use to get political information will be critical for future elections.
  • In that light, re-doubling GOTV efforts through technological upgrades as well as gathering more human resources will be critical this cycle and cycles to come. Voter ID will only be effective if it's used properly in this new environment. And in the digital age, GOTV strategy can be bigger and more efficient at the same time. GOTV 2.0 should have applications beyond November 2008 as well. Example: in my home city of Anchorage, AK, and 8-3 conservative majority on the city council held 8-3 in April 2007 with over 30% turnout. That majority turned into a 6-5 minority by April 2008 with around 21% turnout. Local races matter!
  • If we want to do the above two items, building local, county, and state party resources needs to be continued on a bigger level. I don't know that we want to go to the extent that Howard Dean did in hiring a bevy of people in every state for on- and off-years. But a 50 state strategy of identifying issues, recruiting volunteers, and fielding potential talent to fill party headquarters around the nation will not only help efforts in 2008. It can leave a lasting legacy by creating the foundations to build a GOP farm team.

I'm sure finance teams and campaign managers, locally to nationally from party organizations to campaigns, have long and tough meetings on coming up with annual budgets. While winning elections today is important, investing money into innovative solutions that can be used for future elections in all 50 states can yield great returns.

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GOTV 2.0

Great post. Really believe you are right about taking GOTV to the next level.

Micromedia and momentum

Heavy broadcast TV will get down the field, but I'm not so sure it will get one over the goal line.

Mac will need to attract a fair number of '04 Kerry voters to hold OH and flip NH and MI. I think Rove correctly points out a "base maximiziing" race still will work in VA, where a Dem struggles to get to 52% against self destructive GOP campaigns. Elsewhere, I'm not so sure.

Older blue collar Democrats and young adult/middle aged  suburban women may have reasons not to vote for Obama, but they may not be consistent with traditional Republicanism.

I think radio and targeted cable fills in these gaps. You can pick off audience pretty well by age, income and geography this way. Radio's use of :60's also allows for a bit more info to be conveyed. And ads can be fit for the demo. A Paris Hilton dig might work well on a Top 40 station appealing to women 18-39; while a Reagan nostaglia piece could be placed on classic rock stations appealing to 40-50 something men.

The GOP also needs to make it "cooler" to vote McCain. Part of that is visibility. I see very few McCain stickers in metro Hartford, but if metro Harrisburg isn't awash in Mac stickers and lawn signs soon, that is a problem. For the first time, a sense of potential dread has hit our opponents and possible success has hit out camp this week. Can we turn this into "facts on the ground"