In Virginia today, this lost:
How many times do I have to say it? In the modern campaign, early money and establishment support matters far, far less than it used to, and could actually turn out to be a handicap -- particularly when money becomes the story.
Campaigns like McAuliffe's that are focused above all else on money, and that put out self-congratulatory press releases about their "grassroots organization" and their Noah's Ark of big-name consultants, frequently forget that money can't buy two other M's: message and momentum. As a campaign manager, I'd much, much rather be running the guy with a message and no money versus the guy with money and no message. Why? Because the guy with a message will eventually find momentum, which will deliver all the money he needs when he needs it.
Of course, political consultants (and, disclosure: I'm one), like early money and quarterly numbers stories because they determine whether and how much they will get paid. But the reality is that money rarely translates into votes, particularly when fundraising is a fig leaf covering up glaring flaws in a candidate's argument. Ask Terry McAuliffe, Hillary Clinton, Mitt Romney, and Rudy Giuliani (who raised more than any other Republican from individuals, all for a single delegate) what having big, early bundler money gets you.
I didn't predict Creigh Deeds would be the nominee until last week, but I did have a strong sense that Terry McAuliffe would crater once this DC fixer met grassroots reality. Placing me squarely in the analytical minority inside the Beltway, I tweeted this on January 29th:
Moran did not catch on partly because of his brother's baggage, but McAuliffe remained hugely vulnerable in a party that had just last year spit up and chewed out its most inevitable candidate in recent history, McAuliffe's former boss. That vulnerability caught up with him when Deeds became a viable candidate.
And lo and behold, within days of Deeds catching on, which according to this Google search trends chart, happened sometime around May 27th, five days after the WaPo endorsement, he was outpacing McAuliffe by the 31st in search queries and most criticially, he suddenly had money. He was buying broadcast in Northern Virginia, and in fact bought a couple of ads on NBC's special on the Obama White House, a smart way of targeting Democratic voters, something even McAuliffe didn't do. Around this time, I noticed that the sea of McAuliffe signs on my way to work was thinning, to be replaced decisively by a sea of "Washington Post Endorses Deeds" signs. The coup de grace came in the final 24 hours, when with money to burn Deeds bought a "network blast" on Google's ad network, essentially taking over ad inventory on every website (including this one) if you lived in Virginia.
The moral of the story is not to run an ascetic campaign for its own sake, but to realize that money and political success are growing more and more intertwined. This is not 1988 or 1992, when a Paul Simon or Paul Tsongas could have a surplus of political success combined a deficit of money, strangling their upstart campaigns in the crib. Today, the money comes in virtually instantaneously online at the first hint of success. The McAuliffe model of banking money early to generate momentum later through ads is broken. The new model is to generate organic opportunities for momentum first then monetize them, punching through the finish line in a final blitzkrieg at the end.
Disclosure: I consult for Bob McDonnell.