The Democratic race for President, in recent weeks, has started to see the impact of self-financing candidates.
The biggest spender: former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who has invested $64 million in just two weeks into his messaging. Fellow billionaire Tom Steyer is not too far behind.
Bloomberg and Steyer, until recent weeks, were footnotes. However, their ability to spend at will puts them at contrast with more established politicians, who by and large are not spending personal funds.
Those political operations are recalibrating.
“Unite the Country,” a Super PAC supportive of former U.S. Vice President Joe Biden, is engaging in Iowa next week with a $650,000 ad buy.
The “Courage” spot is the committee’s first ad buy, but it won’t be the last, Schale notes.
The goal, says Unite the Country Executive Director Steve Schale, is for “momentum … to come out of Iowa in a strong place.”
Schale, the Florida state director of the 2008 Barack Obama campaign among many other efforts over the years, would not “get into the expectation setting game,” demurring to define that strong place as winning outright or even finishing in the top 3 in February’s caucuses.
‘Our polling shows the race similar to public polls, with Mayor Pete [Buttigieg] with a little lead,” Schale said.
Buttigieg, of course, has been aggressive in buying Iowa TV, as his appeal doesn’t translate to key Democratic coalitions in other parts of the country.
Buttigieg and Biden, along with Sens. Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, have typically been the top four in polls over the months.
However, Schale doesn’t see the potential winner of the caucus as necessarily restricted to that quartet of candidates.
“Iowa is very fluid,” Schale said, comparing it to Democratic nominating contests in 2004 and 2008, and even the Republican race of 2016.
Indeed, the caucus system and the prolonged interactions between candidates and voters have been known to set up many meteoric rises and precipitous falls in polls, with front runners rendered afterthoughts before the caucuses start.
Biden, seen as the front-runner nationally in the early months of the race, has gradually moved back in the pack, at the same time reports of campaign-trail gaffes have begun to pile up.
However, Schale is not worried.
“He’s doing just fine,” Schale said, noting that the map past Iowa and New Hampshire shapes out better for the Delaware Democrat.
“His strength nationally is his broad appeal … beyond white voters, African-Americans and Hispanics,” Schale said. “The longer the race goes, we get to states where the Democratic profile looks like America, those places get more favorable.
South Carolina looks like Biden’s to lose currently, and Nevada likewise shows a path to a Biden win.
The six-figure spend, of course, won’t keep up with the race’s billionaire arrivistes. But Schale is acutely aware of that.
“Steyer spent a lot to get to single digits,” Schale said. “And all the candidates combined couldn’t compete with Bloomberg.
“Nobody has the money to compete with self-financing billionaires,” Schale said, in terms of matching ad buys.
However, Schale notes that the “biggest challenge” for Biden is the “two-front war” he’s fighting, with Democratic rivals hitting him from the left and the President attacking as if the general election is already on.