What Happens When the Money Dries Up?
by Deacon Blues
I have assumed that even if Hillary went 0-2 in the first two contests, her infrastructure and advantages in the following contests would firewall her from lasting damage. Today, the New York Times reports that the Clinton campaign now projects that the nomination race will extend well into the spring. Worse yet for Team Clinton, it turns out that the campaign has spent most of its upfront cash in Iowa and headquarters, instead of building a campaign infrastructure in those firewall states.
Even though the Clinton team has sought to convey that it has built a national operation, the campaign has invested much of its resources in the Feb. 1 caucuses in Iowa, hoping that a victory there could marginalize Mr. Sanders and set Mrs. Clinton on the path to the nomination. As much as 90 percent of the campaign’s resources are now split between Iowa and the Brooklyn headquarters, according to an estimate provided by a person with direct knowledge of the spending. The campaign denied that figure.
The campaign boasted last June, when Mrs. Clinton held her kickoff event on Roosevelt Island in New York, that it had at least one paid staff member in all 50 states. But the effort did not last, and the staff members were soon let go or reassigned.
The focus on Iowa, which still haunts Mrs. Clinton after the stinging upset by Barack Obama there in 2008, has been so intense that even organizers in New Hampshire, which holds its primary on Feb. 9, have complained to the campaign’s leadership that they feel neglected.
The Clinton team now admits they'll need $50 million to fight through the spring and to assemble the infrastructure to do so. But this campaign has already raised over $100 million, from a smaller donor pool than Bernie Sanders' larger pool of small-dollar donors who can keep giving, which they will if energized after going 2-0 in the early contests. And it appears that Clinton will need this money to build the infrastructure to compete, especially in the caucus states where Sanders is already on the ground.
Yikes, this is a replay of 2008, when the Clinton team went for "shock and awe" and got out-organized by Team Obama especially in caucus states. Did they not learn anything from that experience?
For all its institutional advantages, the Clinton campaign lags behind the Sanders operation in deploying paid staff members: For example, Mr. Sanders has campaign workers installed in all 11 of the states that vote on Super Tuesday. Mrs. Clinton does not, and is relying on union volunteers and members of supportive organizations such as Planned Parenthood to help her.
A prolonged primary campaign against an opponent widely popular with the party’s liberal base could exhaust donors who will also be asked to contribute to an expensive campaign to defeat the Republican nominee. A contentious race against Mr. Sanders could also weaken Mrs. Clinton’s standing among Democratic voters she would need in November.
Mr. Sanders’s campaign has also been crunching the delegate math. It says he can outperform Mrs. Clinton with white voters and voters under 45, who favor Mr. Sanders two to one, and pick up delegates in states that have caucuses rather than primaries.
His campaign is optimistic in states like Colorado, Minnesota and Wyoming — which hold caucuses, a system that favors the party’s most liberal voters — as well as in other states with relatively small and mostly white populations of Democrats.
Suppose Hillary goes 0-2, and needs to raise boatloads of cash fast to build what she should have built weeks ago, and needs to bloody Sanders all along the way in doing it. As someone who doesn't generate passion amongst her followers, how willing will her smaller pool of donors be in bankrolling intraparty hand-to-hand combat, when they expected to write checks against the Republican nominee in the fall? What happens if the money isn't there, and Sanders keeps picking up delegates all through the process while Clinton looks stalled?
I'm sure the Sanders campaign and his supporters relish that possibility, and they should take credit if it comes to pass. But before they celebrate, they and the Democratic Party need to game-plan a possible scenario from this outcome. Let's say Hillary loses out on the nomination. If turnout and enthusiasm suffer as a result amongst women, African Americans, and Latinos, can Sanders find enough young voters, independents, and college-town liberals to offset that and put him in the White House ahead of a Republican who runs a “taxes and terrorism” campaign against him?