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The 2012 Presidential Campaigns Basically Now Have More Money Than They Can Possibly Spend Sensibly

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MITT ROMNEY
AP

It's a common complaint to say that there is too much money in politics, but as both presidential campaigns come into the final few days of the election season, we seem to have reached the point where there is now, actually, too much money in politics than even politics knows what to do with. And so now, the campaigns are essentially unloading campaign cash as if they've reached the climactic part in the plot arc of "Brewster's Millions."

Most of the rush to unload cash on hand is being paced by Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney's campaign, which is now pumping all sorts of money into states that he is not likely to win, like Minnesota and Pennsylvania. There is some utility to the strategy -- money spent on ads in certain geographic areas of those states allow some bleed into the crucial state of Ohio, where there are probably no television ad spaces left to buy, unless the campaign wants to establish it's own pop-up television channel to tell lies about the auto bailout for the last few days. Additionally, the Romney campaign's decision to spend money in an illusory effort to "expand the map" in an investment of keeping its bluffer's strategy alive.

But let's swing through the new non-battleground. Despite the fact that the Romney campaign is mounting a surrogate-heavy, flood-the-zone style swing state tour to close out the campaign, money spent on ads in Minnesota is not being matched with any in-state appearances from the campaign -- despite the fact that former Republican Minnesota Senator Norm Coleman will be among those stumping for Mitt. And that tour will bring the Romney campaign back to North Carolina, a state his campaign was at one point supposed to be confidently wrapping up.

Other states seem like a further stretch. Nate Cohn has everything you need to know about the hard road Romney has in front of him if he wants to win Pennsylvania -- the short version is that the math just doesn't work. And competing in New Mexico, at this point, is nothing more than burn off. Polling in the Land Of Enchantment has given Obama a wide, comfortable lead.

If Romney has a quasi-legit opportunity to expand the map, some recent polling in Michigan may be tempting. And Romney's wasting no money at this point by spending to lock down Florida and Virginia, two states he needs to carry but hasn't fully gripped yet. But that's when you run into the Obama campaign, trying to get rid of its war chest -- it's prepared to match the Romney campaign's spending, and has no reason to save for the future.

Of course, it seems that the consensus is that the race mostly hinges on Ohio. Greg Sargent has the essential snapshot of what Romney is facing in the Buckeye State:

Romney is not winning over blue collar whites in Ohio at anywhere near the rate he’s winning them nationally. The poll finds that Obama is running nearly even with Romney among white Ohio voters without college degrees. It’s always dangerous to read too much into one poll. But it seems fair to speculate that Obama’s auto-bailout — which helped save an industry linked to one in eight Ohio jobs — and the Obama camp’s nonstop attacks on Romney for opposing it could help explain these numbers, and Romney’s general inability to close the gap.

Romney is trying to deal with this by running new ads touting himself as the true friend of the auto industry and casting the auto rescue as a sellout to China. But fact checkers — and the Ohio press — have widely called out his ads as false. And another finding in today’s NYT/CBS poll suggests this could be problematic: Only 45 percent think Romney is honest and trustworthy, versus 50 percent who don’t; for Obama those numbers are 54-42.

Here, the money Romney is spending seems to be turning into a net-negative investment in ads that no one believes. One has to wonder if this is bad money chasing after good -- offsetting whatever cases the Romney-affiliated super PACs may be attempting to make on his behalf.

In 2008, the combined campaigns of Barack Obama and John McCain spent more than $1 billion, and never managed to convince anybody that it was the best use of all that money. Flash-forward to 2012, and the combined campaigns of Obama and Romney have already sailed past the $2 billion mark. It's possible that the Obama campaign could have done more to stimulate the necessary amount of economy-boosting aggregate demand to secure election by simply burying most of their money in the ground and telling people to go look for it.

Maybe this last week of the campaign, as the candidates try to spend what they have left so neither can be accused (by their big money donors) of not trying as hard as they could to win, is their version of burying money. Nevertheless, one of the supreme ironies of Mitt Romney staging a food drive in Ohio, ostensibly to benefit the storm-ravaged denizens of New York and New Jersey (somehow?) is that he only managed to stack up additional campaign assets that he now has to find a way to unload.

[NOTE: This post orginally failed to designate Norm Coleman as the former Senator from Minnesota. It has now been updated to reflect this. We regret any confusion.]

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