So much for a campaign of ideas. It probably reflects political reality, but it's still disappointing to see American commentators judging the viability of 2008 presidential candidates purely on the basis of how much money their campaigns have raised.
Freshman Sen. Barack Obama has now been declared the chief opponent to Sen. Hillary Clinton for the Democratic presidential nomination, based on the fact that he came close to raising as much money as she did during the first quarter of 2007. The $26 million Clinton raised during that reporting period seemed to give her an overwhelming advantage - until it was reported that Obama had raised $25 million. After that, Obama was declared a top contender.
On the Republican side, Gov. Mitt Romney was the leader with a surprising $23 million in contributions. He was followed by Rudy Guiliani with $15 million and John McCain with $12.5 million. However, none of those candidates is exactly catching fire with a seemingly ambivalent bunch of Republican voters.
Perhaps the most shocking part of these numbers is not who is leading the fundraising pack but the realization of how much money it takes to run for president of the United States. Realistic observers watch the money in the campaign because candidates' success often depends more on how well they are packaged, presented and promoted than on the stands and philosophies they express on the campaign trail. That's why most candidates probably spend far more time raising money than they do formulating big ideas about America's future.
"Big" money also was an issue in the recent Lawrence City Commission campaign. The amount of money raised and spent in that race obviously pales by comparison to the dollars in a presidential campaign, but some observers were critical of the contributions, saying certain segments of the community "bought" the election. Additional money can buy some extra advertising or a few more yard signs for local candidates, but given the many opportunities local voters have to learn about candidates and their stands on issues, it seems unlikely that money alone will sway a school board or city commission election.
The same might be true of the American presidency, but money obviously is a huge factor in running a national campaign. It becomes an even bigger factor when the presidential campaign starts two years before the voters go to the polls. Limiting the amount people can give to candidates may be undemocratic, but how about setting a time limit on campaigns? So much can happen between now and November 2008. A more concentrated campaign closer to the actual election might ease some of the emphasis on fundraising and serve voters better than the current protracted system.