Mitt Romney has adopted what top Republicans describe as a Cold War strategy to defeat President Barack Obama: To spend him into oblivion.
As Ronald Reagan's expensive defense build up stretched the Soviet Union thin, the Romney campaign's massive ad buys are aimed as much at broadening the playing field as at persuasion, forcing Obama and his allies to spread their resources thin and to play defense in formerly safe states. Wednesday, there were early signs that the strategy is working, as Obama reported a "burn rate" far in excess of the Republican's.
“It’s just like the Cold War. They’re going to force Obama to spend himself into oblivion — while trying to peel off constituencies like the Eastern Bloc,” said a Democratic strategist, citing lingering vulnerability with blue collar workers and potential Republican gains with hispanics. “The only question is which [constituency] will be the first domino.”
As the Obama campaign launches multi-million dollar TV blitzes to shore up support in left-leaning states, Romney and his conservative allies continue to fill their war chests.
“There’s no way they’ll be able to keep up. Our SuperPACs are our Star Wars, if you will,” said a Republican operative close to the Romney campaign.
The Obama campaign itself will probably be able to stay even with Romney's haul, but the incumbent's advisers admit they're at a disadvantage when SuperPACs and joint victory committees are taken into account. In fact, on Wednesday Obama officials told reporters that all-in, they expected to be outspent three-to-one by Romney and his Republican allies by Election Day.
Financial disclosure reports released this week indicate that Romney's Cold War strategy may be working. Obama spent $34 million on ads last month, a staggering sum so early in the election that did nothing but keep the incumbent from sinking further in the polls amid a painfully slow economic recovery. And while the campaign ran at a $5.4 million deficit in May, they just announced a new ad buy that includes defending two states — Pennsylvania and Nevada — that they previously deemed to be leaning in their direction.
"There is a sense that this impenetrable wall, this hermetically sealed culture in the East, is opening up," said Republican consultant Rick Wilson. "There are a lot of cracks in Obama's operation, but also his narrative — and the economy is just eating away at them. It looks like this 'blue wall' is about ready to collapse."
The Romney campaign is still less than one-third the size of the expensive Obama bureaucracy in Chicago, and has been able to hoard its cash because super PACs are giving them cover. To Obama's detriment, Democrats have fewer deep-pocketed allies.
"He can run deficits all he wants as president, but there is no Federal Reserve to print more money for campaigns," Wilson added. "Republicans are just spending at a rate they can't keep pace with, and that's going to hurt him in November."
Meanwhile, the Romney campaign continues to do all in its power to keep Obama on defense. In a deliberate step in the Cold War battle plan, the campaign just completed a bus tour through six states that all went blue in 2008. A hyper-choreographed affair — complete with its own slogan, "Every Town Counts," and a newly-decaled bus — the trip was meant as series of warning shots for Team Obama.
At many of the stops, Romney made a point of declaring his intention to win the state he was in — prompting local newspapers to splash near-identical headlines across their front pages. And the places where Romney oozed the most bravado — Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, and Michigan — are all states that Obama has been heavily favored to win.
Does Romney actually think he'll carry those states? It almost doesn't matter.
"We took Mitt Romney's pro-jobs message into six states that were all won by Obama in 2008," said senior Romney adviser Eric Fehrnstrom of the bus tour. "What you saw was a campaign on offense that was forcing its opponents to defend territory that they thought was safely in their column."
McKay Coppins is a senior writer for the BuzzFeed News politics team, and the author of The Wilderness, about the battle over the future of the Republican Party.
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