Barack Obama's presidential campaign raised a record of $150 million in September, giving him a significant cash advantage over his opponent John McCain. The Democratic nominee is using his treasure chest to purchase television and radio ads in closely contested states, and also in traditional Republican strongholds such as Indiana, Nevada, North Carolina, Virginia and even West Virginia. VOA Correspondent Cindy Saine takes a look at the role money plays in the U.S. presidential campaign.
Barack Obama became the first major party candidate not to join the public financing system for the general election campaign, backing away from an earlier pledge that he would do so. This frees the Democratic candidate to raise an unlimited amount from private donations.
Republican candidate John McCain chose to take public funds, and is now limited to spending the $84 million he received from the public financing system during the final two months of the campaign.
The Obama campaign has raised an unprecedented total of more than $600 million during the campaign, almost equaling the combined amount both major candidates, George Bush and John Kerry, raised in the 2004 presidential election.
Speaking on Fox News Sunday, Senator McCain said this kind of runaway campaign spending is cause for concern.
"But what I worry about is future elections too. Not only mine, I worry most about mine at the moment, but what is going to happen the next time around?" McCain noted. "Four years from now, what is going to happen? Particularly if you have got an incumbent president and we no longer stick to the public financing, which was a result of the Watergate scandal."
McCain also criticized Obama for not living up to his pledge to accept public funds.
The Obama campaign argues that it has developed what amounts to a parallel financing system of its own, with more than three-million individual donors contributing to his campaign, many of them donating small sums over the Internet. The campaign says the average donation for September was less than $100.
Obama's financial advantage is making it possible for him to drown McCain's message in a flood of TV, web and radio ads. Obama is even advertising in video games.
Evan Tracey is president of the Campaign Media Analysis Group, a private firm that provides political advertising information to its clients. Tracey said he has never seen anything like Obama's success and corresponding dominance of the airwaves.
"For the casual viewer, for the person who is just kind of tuning into this race knowing that they are going to be voting in a couple of weeks, all they are seeing in a lot of these battleground states are Obama ads on TV, all they are hearing are Obama ads on radio," Tracey noted. "It just really gives Obama the advantage of somewhat blanketing the paid media, the advertising aspect of this race, and it just makes it that much harder for Senator McCain to have a message that is able to cut through."
One of John McCain's television ads questions "Who is Barack Obama?", and uses it to counter some of Obama's ads against him.
A recent Obama TV ad says McCain is attacking him to distract voters' attention away from the economic crisis.
The candidates also use their campaign money to open offices in hotly contested states and to conduct grassroots voter registration and voter turnout efforts with paid field workers. Obama has also purchased 30 minutes of prime time on network television to address American voters in the week before the election.