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Can You Even Spend More Than $84 Million In 8 Weeks?

Over at his ABC blog, former Bush pollster Matt Dowd says it was a mistake for Obama to opt out of the public financing system, and not just because it damaged his reformer cred:

The way the system works he could have outraised and vastly outspent McCain in the next 90 days before the Democratic convention because primary dollars are still in place. After the convention, he basically only has eight weeks left and spending a little less than $90 million dollars (which is the public finance amount) effectively is going to be all but impossible.

The urban myth in presidential politics (which media consultants don't like to hear) is that paid advertising is key -- it absolutely isn't!

I'm skeptical. There's clearly a limit to what paid advertising can get you, but I'm not sure you hit it this side of $10 million a week (which, of course, has to fund your entire organization, not just ad buys). More importantly, the point of opting out and raising additional money is to expand the traditional electoral map. Even if, for the sake of argument, it really is hard to spend more than $84 million in 8-plus weeks in a 15-20 state campaign, it can't be that hard if you're spreading it out across 30-40 states.

And, of course, in some respects it's not the absolute amount of money you spend, but the relative amount. If you're able to outspend your opponent two or three to one by investing in non-traditional states, then, even if you're not spending very efficiently, he probably has to respond in some of those states, which diverts resources from the 15-20 he'd like to target. I'm not sure how you conclude that's not an advantage.

Finally, Obama may just be unique in some respects. Between his race, his name, and his relatively brief time in the public eye, the biggest challenge he faces may  be reassuring voters that he's kosher (so to speak). It's probably worth having a little extra cash lying around if that's your top strategic consideration.

(Via Jay Carney.)

--Noam Scheiber