There are two things that are important in politics," said Mark Hanna, who is credited with running the first modern presidential campaign (for William McKinley in 1896). "The first is money, and I can't remember the second."
President Barack Obama agrees. He spent $740.6 million in his 2008 campaign -- $93.9 million more than George W. Bush and John Kerry spent combined four years before.
The president attended 133 fundraisers between January 2011 and May 2. At this pace, by Election Day he'll have attended more than the five presidents before him put together (208). Despite this, Team Obama's fundraising has fallen well behind the pace of 2008.
In May and June, the campaign for former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and the Republican National Committee raised substantially more than the Obama campaign and the Democratic National Committee, which prompted the president to declare in a fundraising email: "I will be the first president in modern history to be outspent in his re-election campaign."
The president poor-mouths to get Democrats to open their wallets. Through June, Team Obama raised $326 million -- 44 percent more than Team Romney.
Overall, the Obama campaign, the DNC and liberal PACs have raised about $125 million more than the Romney campaign, the RNC and conservative PACs.
But the cheesy effort to get newlyweds to ask their guests to make a campaign contribution in lieu of a wedding gift indicates some of the panic in the fundraising appeals is real.
It's all but impossible for Republicans to overcome the Democrats' fundraising lead. But Mr. Romney may have more to spend in October, because the president has been as profligate with his campaign funds as he is with the taxpayers' money. In May and June, his campaign spent more than it raised.
Team Obama has spent about $130 million on ads attacking Mr. Romney as a rich, out-of-touch out-sourcer of jobs. That's an enormous amount for this early, but the strategy was sound. The president can't run on his accomplishments, because there aren't any. He can win only if he can convince Americans the alternative is worse.
But since the ads began running, Mr. Romney has closed the gap with the president. In a few polls, Mr. Romney's personal favorability rating has edged past Mr. Obama's. This is all the more remarkable because Mr. Obama had the airways to himself. Team Romney, husbanding its resources for the fall, has spent little to answer the attack ads.
This doesn't mean, necessarily, that all the money spent on the ads has been wasted. Were it not for them, Mr. Romney may have risen further in the polls. But when you spend so much, you expect to do better than to lose ground more slowly. Team Obama also burns through cash much faster because its fixed costs are much higher than are Team Romney's.
Contrary to media mythology, Democrats usually have a huge money advantage because of all labor unions spend on their behalf. Unions have spent $4.4 billion on politics and lobbying since 2005 -- about four times as much as what they report to the Federal Elections Commission, said the Wall Street Journal on July 10.
The Democrats' money advantage will be much smaller this year, chiefly because so many who gave to Mr. Obama before aren't writing checks now. Through June, 87 percent of those who gave $200 or more in 2008 have yet to donate to his re-election campaign, according to BuzzFeed.
The Supreme Court's ruling that threw out limits on spending by independent groups (Citizens United, 2010) helped conservatives narrow the gap.
But left-wing groups still spend more.
Unions spent a lot fighting reforms in Wisconsin, Ohio and elsewhere. Where successful, reforms have put a crimp in union resources. So has the Supreme Court's ruling in July which forbids unions to make nonmember workers pay fees for politics. So they have less to spend on Democrats. And this time labor bosses would rather spend their money on their own activities than give it to Democrats. They, too, are disappointed by Mr. Obama.
He hasn't delivered what they wanted most. And though he'd promised "to walk the picket line with you," he was a no-show in Wisconsin.
The playing field still slants left. But for Democrats, it's getting uncomfortably close to level.
Jack Kelly is a columnist for The Press and The Blade of Toledo, Ohio. email@example.com, 412-263-1476. This story originally appeared in The Pittsburgh Press. To log in or subscribe, go to: http://press.post-gazette.com/