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Tom Baxter

‘Powerfulest scene and show,’ funded with majestic amounts of money

Old Walt Whitman got it right.  As messy as this one is likely to be, as many as have already voted before the polls open Tuesday, Election Day remains our “powerfulest scene and show,” more majestic in its way than our greatest natural wonders.

The heart of it, he thought, was not in the chosen but the choosing, and that’s a good way to look at things when you’re writing about an election this close, the day before it’s over.

First about close. Not only is the presidential election close enough for it to be conceivable the next winter storm could hit the East Coast before the winner is known, but there are some nail-biters in this comfortably red state as well.

Will the well-heeled charter school amendment go the way of T-SPLOST? Will U.S. Rep. John Barrow overcome the redrawing of his district and hang on as the delegation’s last white Democrat? Can State Sen. Doug Stoner pull out that pivotal legislative race? We won’t know until the polls close.

What we can say before we know the winners and losers is that in a period of feeble economic recovery for the nation, the election has been a majestic spendarama, with both candidates, along with their parties and Super PACs, expected to raise and spend nearly $1 billion each. Congressional races and referendum questions like those in Georgia have also attracted vast sums of national, special interest money. Times may still be tough, but this election at least proves that many still have the means to write checks.

This second election after the U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling isn’t likely to be the high-water mark for campaign spending in presidential races. But it may be the election which makes clear the limits of what money can buy.

After decrying the baleful effects of the ruling, Barack Obama and the Democrats proved capable of raising enough Super PAC money to compete with the Republican’s financial armada, and of using it more effectively in the early stages of the campaign. It was necessary for both candidates to raise as much as they did to compete on the national stage, but money won’t be the difference in the race.

Even a billion dollars can’t call up a hurricane or blow one away. The video of that “47 percent” remark? Priceless. And the few days Mitt Romney spent doing extra prep for the first debate cost him very little, but it was the best time spent by the Republican nominee in the whole campaign. For all the money that will be spent, the intangibles, the uncountables and the unpredictables will make the difference in this close struggle.

With the money spigot open wide and only so many ways to spent it,  presidential campaigns have come to be a little like newspapers. Part – the part engaged in on social networks by partisans of both stripes and bloggers of all varieties – is free, and increasing in importance. One of the historic developments of this campaign has been the way in which Twitter traffic became the controlling medium for reaction to the debates – before the debates were concluded.

But an essential part – the endless air war supplemented by the Super PACs and the grinding, street-by-street struggle in the battleground states – is still paid for.

There is  the intriguing possibility that some future candidate may find the means to torpedo the cumbersome old money ship and succeed on a much tighter budget. But it won’t be this year. (Back after the election with some closing thoughts.)

Tom Baxter

Tom Baxter has written about politics and the South for more than four decades. He was national editor and chief political correspondent at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, and later edited The Southern Political Report, an online publication, for four years. Tom was the consultant for the 2008 election night coverage sponsored jointly by Current TV, Digg and Twitter, and a 2011 fellow at the Robert J. Dole Institute of Politics at the University of Kansas. He has written about the impact of Georgia’s and Alabama's immigration laws in reports for the Center for American Progress. Tom and his wife, Lili, have three adult children and seven grandchildren.


1 Comment

  1. BrandtHardin November 5, 2012 5:51 pm

    If Obama loses this election, you can blame/thank the Right for bamboozling him.  How is it ethical that an entire news network questions the President’s citizenship for four years to create doubt in voters while a fringe element of the far right demonizes and degrades him?  Most of this is financed by the rich who want to keep their stranglehold on the flow of wealth in our country.  Watch the white hands apply the Blackface to our first African-American President at http://dregstudiosart.blogspot.com/2012/10/bamboozling-obama.htmlReport


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