Archives: Obama’s re-election bid could be the most expensive ever

Originally published in April 2011
Simon Nguyen

President Barack Obama has officially entered the 2012 presidential race, one and a half year before the first votes will be cast. An early announcement was needed to give the president ample time to raise funds for his re-election. Early estimates put the expected cost for the re-election bid at $1 billion, which would be the all-time most expensive election campaign.

Despite the weak economy, the $1 billion number is likely to have been greatly understated. The president was estimated to have raised and spent about $750 million in his 2008 campaign. Adjusted for inflation, a similar campaign in 2012 should cost considerably more. This number does not even account for the billions of dollars that will be spent by outside groups, in support of the president’s campaign.

The last U.S. presidential re-election bid was George W. Bush in 2004. The former president spent almost 3 times more money on that campaign than on his 2000 campaign. Before that, Bill Clinton also spent more money on his re-election. If the trend holds for 2012, President Obama will have to spend at least $1.5 billion on his re-election bid. The president should have no trouble raising this much money, however. The prestige of the presidency and a massive donor list give Obama a tremendous fundraising advantage over his Republican challengers.

Another big advantage for Barack Obama is the fact that he is unlikely to face a formidable challenge in the Democratic primary. Incumbent presidents have historically won their party’s nomination with ease. A serious primary challenge is doubtful, as it would signal to the voters that the president does not have the full support of his base.

There is, however, still a chance that Obama will be strongly opposed in the primaries. The liberals in the Democratic Party may use this opportunity to push the president further left of the political spectrum. If this is to happen, a $2-billion campaign is not out of the question.

Who benefits the most from campaign money? The media has been the biggest beneficiary of campaign spending. In his 2008 presidential bid, President Obama spent over $244 million on broadcast media and another $133 million on non-Internet media. These two expenditures combined to account for almost half of his total campaign expenditure. One should expect something similar for 2012.

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