Obama and his key political allies had more than twice as much cash on hand at the beginning of March as presumptive rival Mitt Romney and his supporters, who continue to burn through most of their money in a nasty and interminable nomination feud, according to disclosure reports.
Even a phalanx of well-funded conservative super PACs hasnâ€™t been able to stockpile enough money to rival Obama, who had nearly $85Â million in his campaign bank account at the end of February, records show. Several of the key GOP super PACs also have seen fundraising numbers decline, even in the heat of a nomination contest.
The figures suggest a new possibility: that super PACs could have a more limited impact on the general election than it appears from the Republican primaries, where they haveÂ dominated spendingÂ in part because most of the candidates have raised relatively little.
â€œI think thereâ€™s a real possibility that super PACs wonâ€™t be that important in the general election after all,â€ said Bradley A. Smith, a former Republican-appointed chairman of the Federal Election Commission who advocates fewer restrictions on political spending. â€œObamaâ€™s got a huge amount of money, and he will probably vastly outspend Romney, assuming heâ€™s the nominee.â€
Both sides, of course, are furiously spinning the numbers to their advantage. Obama campaign manager Jim Messina warned last month that Democrats would be buried in an â€œavalancheâ€ of negative super PAC ads, and urged donors to step up in response.
Republicans, meanwhile, cast the Obama operation as a juggernaut that could raise $1Â billion or more, and portray super PACs, fueled by wealthy donors, as a vital tool allowing conservatives to close the gap.
â€œThe Democrats are saying, â€˜Weâ€™re going to be seriously outgunned here, weâ€™re David and theyâ€™re Goliath,â€™â€ˆâ€ said Sheila Krumholz, executive director of theÂ Center for Responsive Politics, which tracks campaign spending. â€œBut the side thatâ€™s supposed to be Goliath is saying, â€˜No, theyâ€™re the ones with the Hollywood money and the union money. Theyâ€™re the real money machine.â€™ Each side has its own spin.â€
Super PACs and other independent groups have clearly played a pivotal role in the Republican primaries, which have been muchÂ less expensiveÂ overall than previous contests. A pro-Romney group has repeatedly crushed his opponents with negative ads in key battleground states, while other super PACs have helped Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich keep their shoestring campaigns alive.