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Why Biden Raising More Money Than Trump for the 2024 Election Matters

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President Biden may be down in the polls, but he’s way up on Donald Trump when it comes to campaign funds.

Each quarter since the president announced he was running again, Biden has lapped his predecessor in cash. The Biden campaign and its political committees held $192 million at the end of March, more than double the $93 million that Trump, the Republican National Committee and their shared accounts reported. Biden will also benefit from more than $1 billion pledged by independent groups that back his re-election. Trump allies have so far announced only a pittance of the outside money Biden has accrued.

What can a campaign do with this sort of advantage? In today’s newsletter, I’ll explain how a deluge of cash might matter — and why it might not.

There are two main things a political campaign buys: advertising and efforts to get out the vote.

TV and digital ads are by far the biggest expenditures for a national campaign, with staff-heavy field operations the next biggest. The Biden campaign plans to raise $2 billion by November. On screens and airwaves, it will hammer its anti-Trump message in battleground states. While that’s happening, it will send campaign workers to find voters in those states, figure out which ones need prodding to return their ballots or drag others to their local precinct.

Campaigns spend their money on these things because they often work. “You win this election going out and talking to voters,” Jeffrey Katzenberg, the Hollywood mogul who is a co-chair of the Biden campaign, told me. “That’s what our financial advantage allows us to do.” One example is abortion policy: The Biden campaign is spending millions to remind voters about Trump’s role in the overturning of Roe v. Wade.

It’s worth remembering that presidential campaign ads are not like commercials for insurance. They are aimed at people who don’t follow politics closely and may not have strong opinions about Biden and Trump. That’s a relatively small population, but it’s large enough to decide any of the eight battleground states.

The less well-known the candidate, the larger the impact of political advertising. In 2012, Barack Obama’s campaign began defining Mitt Romney as out-of-touch while he was still fighting his primary contest — helping to doom him in the general election.

On the organizing side, Team Biden — a network that includes the Democratic National Committee and state Democratic parties — has opened more than 100 offices in battleground states, employing some 300 people. Most of these offices existed as state party facilities and now operate as joint ventures with the campaign. Another 200 people work at the Biden campaign’s headquarters in Wilmington, Del. (The campaign declined to make any of its top officials available to comment on its spending for this story.)

The Trump campaign has aired almost no paid advertising since February, according to AdImpact, a media tracking firm. It has not announced any new campaign offices.

The question is what difference it makes to have a financial advantage in a presidential campaign. In 2016, Hillary Clinton had three times as many field offices as Trump did. I wrote a story from Ohio that September about how Trump campaign offices in the state sat vacant while Clinton’s were buzzing. Yet Trump won Ohio by eight percentage points.

Presidential candidates are already so familiar to voters that advertising may mean less than in other races. That’s especially true here. Both Biden and Trump are universally known and not very well liked by the American public. Polling shows Trump’s supporters are loyal, while Biden’s biggest challenge is stitching back together the coalition of voters who backed him in 2020. Many of those constituencies — Black and Latino men, young people, some voters focused on the economy or Gaza — are reluctant to do so again. In response, the Biden campaign is using its money on ads to scare some of those people by arguing Trump would be far worse.

But most people already have firm opinions about Trump. As Beth Myers, a senior aide to the Romney campaign, said, “Carpet-bombing with negative ads — what Obama did to us in spring 2012 when we were low on cash — probably won’t be as effective for Biden.”

Biden has spent $15 million on ads since the beginning of March, according to AdImpact. His approval rating hasn’t moved.

It’s possible that the advertising will be more effective in coming months, when more Americans will focus on the campaign. But Howard Wolfson, a former aide to Hillary Clinton and a longtime aide to Michael Bloomberg, is among those who worries that it is too late and that voters’ opinions are already fixed.

The Biden campaign has seven months to show whether its money can buy, if not love, at least enough enmity for Trump to earn the president a second term in the White House.

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