- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 30, 2012

A late surge of support and months of restrained spending have left the Republican National Committee flush with cash with little time to spend it — $68 million as of Oct. 17, which was nearly seven times the amount the Democratic National Committee had in the bank.

Adding in the cash from other presidential campaign committees, the mismatch still was stark: $156 million for Mitt Romney and his GOP allies to $94 million for President Obama and his allies. State Republican parties also had 50 percent more cash than their Democratic counterparts, according to an analysis by The Washington Times.

It’s likely that means a surge of GOP spending is coming. What’s unclear is what form it will take, and RNC officials declined to tip their hand.

“I can guarantee you we will spend it all and wisely,” Reince Priebus, chairman of the RNC, told The Times.

The last-minute strategy poses opportunities and challenges.

The difference in cash on hand allows Mr. Romney to project the image of momentum by dramatically ramping up the scale of his campaign in the final days, suddenly spending far more heavily on ads, mailers and telemarketers.

This week, Republicans began making a play for Pennsylvania, dipping freely into Republican campaign funds and forcing Democrats to spend their more-limited resources to respond, and touting the new push in the Keystone State as a sign that Mr. Obama is on the wane and Mr. Romney is on the upswing.

But it may be far more difficult to make ad buys in ideal time slots in the more heavily contested states at such a late date, with airwaves already saturated.

Democrats have spent their money throughout the campaign building a much bigger operation early on. The Obama campaign has more than three times as many people on staff at its national headquarters and in swing-state offices as Republicans, and it has used that army to register voters and knock on millions of doors to try to energize Mr. Obama’s base.

In Florida, the GOP had $9.5 million in cash sitting in the bank as of Oct. 17, compared with Democrats’ $2 million.

Yet the GOP there has 114 staffers to Democrats’ 522. In Virginia, the state GOP had 66 staffers on its payroll last month, compared with 414 for Democrats.

At the national level, the RNC and the Romney campaign together had 650 employees, compared with 1,000 for the DNC and the Obama campaign.

Sean Spicer, the RNC’s communications director, said the difference in the scale of the staffs didn’t mean the Republicans’ efforts were less effective.

“That’s like saying the Department of Human Services must be awesome because they have 150,000 employees. If they go out and hire 10 21-year olds and we hire six veteran campaign operatives, you could still argue who made the better investment, but a lot of it comes down to how you make use of people,” he said. “They have a totally different, and we believe inefficient, operation.”

The GOP’s last-minute spending surge likely will be limited to the kind of advocacy that can be bought on a day’s notice, including telemarketing and vast quantities of direct mail.

But political strategists say it is difficult for any short-term expenditure of money to replicate the connection voters feel when a face-to-face contact is made — something the Obama campaign is banking on.

“People say we’ve taken months to invest in this, but it’s really been a five-year investment in getting to know communities,” said Obama spokesman Adam Fetcher. “It’s those conversations with people in their own neighborhoods that matter.”

He said the Republicans are pointing to improvements to their ground game since the 2008 election, but he added that’s a low bar to meet, given how bad all sides agree that operation was four years ago.

“They say they have momentum, they want you to think they’re expanding the map, but they’re not,” Mr. Fetcher said.

The RNC has ruled out a massive TV ad buy, with Mr. Spicer saying a $50 million blitz “is not in the cards.”

The party has run just more than $5 million in independent expenditures since Oct. 17, including a $300,000 ad buy Tuesday, and the amount of viable ad space in battleground regions is slim.

News shows in Cleveland were sold out of ad time with political ads alone, and where time is available, it’s expensive, with the RNC paying up to 16 times the price that the Obama campaign is paying because of rules that give candidates preferential ad rates, but not political parties.

The RNC has collected more contributions than the Romney campaign because of his focus on wealthy donors. Parties have a $35,000-per-person cap, compared with $5,000 to the campaign.

The RNC had $59 million at the equivalent point in 2008, though the party committee assumed extra responsibilities then because the nominee, John McCain, was limited by spending restrictions tied to public funds.

Mr. Spicer noted that much of the money had already been spent since Oct. 17, and that plans for how to spend it have been in the works for much longer.