You could almost hear the sound of Veuve Clicquot uncorking last week over the news that Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama will square off in the race to be the Democratic nominee for president. Sure, Hollywood's liberal aristocracy has much to celebrate with these two left-leaning
celebrities. But there's a much wider swath of the media biz that spans the political spectrum and stands to win big from a campaign already ablaze with marquee wattage.
When was the last time either party could boast this kind of starpower with the proven ability to mint sick amounts of cash?
In her 2006 reelection run, where she faced only token Republican competition, Clinton raised more than $50 million. And after bringing in close to $15 million for his 2004 Senate bid, Obama now has a Murderers' Row of wealthy Democrats and independents falling all over themselves to fund his White House run.
Any K Street consultant will tell you that the entry fee to be taken seriously in the primary is $100 million. And with the primaries starting earlier and growing more front-loaded every year, expect candidates to shell out early and often on expensive TV ads.
In the 2004 primary race, Democratic candidates spent close to $400 million, with the lion's share—$235 million—coming from John Kerry. By the time George W. Bush won reelection, both parties had spent north of an astounding $1 billion, most of it in the primary season. It could easily be 50% higher this time around.
Other Democratic contenders—both declared and on the verge—like John Edwards, Joe Biden and Chris Dodd, are all experienced fundraisers, as well. And a wide-open Republican field, with popular candidates like John McCain, Rudy Giuliani and Mitt Romney, ensures the GOP will be on a primary spending spree, too.
Although the Internet will no doubt play a part in everyone's campaign—it was on their respective Websites that Obama and Clinton made it official—most of the cash will be targeted at TV buys. In the 2004 race, MoveOn.org and other fundraising sites that followed largely enabled dark-horse candidates like Howard Dean to build a war chest for spending on traditional advertising.
But count on the glamorous Clinton and Obama, with their movie-of-the-week biographies, to boost the bottom line in a big way. Gender and race make both of them historic candidates with the kind of charisma that makes for great TV. Both Clinton and Obama are as comfortable sitting across the table from Chris Matthews as they are sharing a couch with Oprah Winfrey.
An engaged electorate will drive ratings from ABC World News to Fox News Sunday. And the primary face-off will feed heaps of red meat to cable news bloviators all over the spectrum.
TV comics and satirists stand to win as much as the news folks. Saturday Night Live's Amy Poehler has already shown the way with her Hillary send-up. I'm sure Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert at Comedy Central are already sharpening their knives.
Ever since John Kennedy brought the presidency into the TV age, we've had candidates who injected a little Hollywood into Washington. Bill Clinton, Ronald Reagan, even Bush has demonstrated a flare for showbiz (remember "Mission Accomplished"?).
But no two candidates with this kind of spark have faced each other yet. I know I'll be watching.
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