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Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Will Burn Rate Lead To Cherry Picking?

George Wenschhof

The Democratic Party primary schedule has over 20 states holding their primary on Tuesday February 5th. The rush to have the Democratic nominee determined earlier has created two year campaigns and unprecedented sums of money being spent.

As we saw with the results from Nevada, the number of delegates a candidate receives is the determining factor in the nomination process. In Nevada, although Senator Hillary Clinton beat Senator Barack Obama by 6 points, she received 12 delegates and Obama received 13. The delegates were awarded in a proportional basis and this resulted in more of a tie than a victory. However, a candidate will always take the win and the press that goes with it at this point in the nomination process.

Here is a good guide on the delegates per state and the dates of the primaries.

There are approximately 4049 delegates that are up for grabs and 2025 are needed by a candidate to receive the Democratic Party nomination. Another important point to keep in mind is that about 25% of the total available delegates are "Super Delegates." These are made up of Democratic elected officials such as a Governor, congressmen, mayors, along with Party Leaders and activists within each state.

Obviously, the battle for the super delegates is intense. However, this battle rarely receives much media attention as these delegates are won by the individual efforts made by candidates and their staff. Another variable here is that the super delegates who sometimes pledge early for a candidate can, and many times do, waver in their support and can change their minds as to which candidate has their support.

So far only four states have held their Democratic primaries with Michigan and their delegates being wiped off the board by the DNC for failing to abide to the Party's primary schedule. Reportedly, the delegate count including super delegates is as follows: Clinton - 190, Obama - 103, Edwards - 51, and Kucinich -1.

The number of delegates up for grabs on February 5th is 2075 so this will be a critical date in determining the Democratic nominee. The amount of money being spent by the candidates (the burn rate) is also crucial to the success of a candidate at this point.

It has been reported that both Clinton and Obama campaigns had spent in the 80 million range after New Hampshire. Both campaigns had raised about 100 million as of the end of year reports so they had about 20 million cash on hand prior to Nevada. The Edwards campaign accepted matching funds and are "limited" or capped at spending 50 million throughout the entire primary.

Both the Obama and Clinton campaigns were reporting receiving as much as one million per day following the Iowa caucuses but it is extremely unlikely that rate of fund raising will continue longer than several days following a primary. It is impossible for the Clinton and Obama campaigns to continue to spend at the same rate for the burn rate will continue to exceed incoming donations. So now, the candidates after the S. Carolina primary on the 26th will have to determine how much and where to spend their money on super Tuesday.

This will lead to many strategies by the candidates and this is why the Edwards campaign has said they will stay in the race through super Tuesday. It is obvious when looking at the states holding primaries that day, that delegate rich states like California and New York will receive attention. Yet it is just not possible for the candidates to spend the same level of funds or give the voters the same amount of attention in each state as they did in Iowa, New Hampshire, and Nevada.

Here is when the campaign strategists earn their money or, depending on the results, they are shown the door and replaced. The process of "cherry picking" (determining what states to focus on) will be crucial on February 5th.

The Edwards campaign has to hope that several things happen now. First, a Obama win over Clinton in S. Carolina on the 26th and that their two campaigns will then pour their resources into California and New York . Second, Edwards has to do much better in S. Carolina than the 4% he received in Nevada. Then, his campaign has to develop a winning strategy in enough states to earn Edwards some reasonable number of delegates on super Tuesday.

Obviously, the Clinton campaign is hoping for a solid second place finish or a surprise win in S. Carolina that would aid in her winning the majority of the delegates on super Tuesday. The Obama campaign is hoping it goes their way and the Edwards campaign has to hope that the voters sour on the nasty politics being exhibited from the front runners. Edwards must pick up some wins, delegates and most important, increased media attention after super Tuesday.

It appears the Clinton and Obama campaigns could spend 200 million just during the primary process. It is likely another 200 million could be spent in the general election. Spending 400 milion to be elected President of the U.S. is just too out of hand. Public financing must receive serious bi-partisan discussion leading to implementation.

It would be refreshing that after super Tuesday the Democratic party nomination process was not settled and the remaining states would have an impact on determining the nominee. All the Democratic voters across the country deserve to have their vote matter in determining the nominee for President.

Even more exciting would be a Democratic Party convention in Colorado in August where the delegates and their vote had meaning.

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