Sen. Barack Obama's record-shattering fundraising haul is giving him unprecedented spending flexibility over the final two weeks of the presidential campaign and the ability to swamp Sen. John McCain's campaign on the air and on the ground wherever Obama and his top aides choose.
While McCain entered October with only $47 million left to spend over the balance of the race, Obama had $133.6 million in cash on hand -- even after Obama outspent McCain 2-1 last month.
The $50 million cash advantage held by the Republican National Committee over its Democratic counterpart helps McCain. But that edge does not begin to address the overall disparity, in part because the McCain campaign is not permitted to have direct control of RNC funds.
Because Obama broke a pledge to broker an agreement with McCain to run with public dollars, his money -- unlike McCain's -- continues to roll in. Assuming his staggering fundraising pace is maintained over the campaign's closing weeks, Obama could wind up raising three-quarters of a billion dollars on his campaign -- more than John Kerry and George W. Bush combined spent in 2004.
"It gives you such a strategic advantage, to do whatever you want wherever you want," said Tad Devine, a veteran Democratic strategist. "It allows you to stay on the offensive at all times."
McCain's comparative cash crunch has forced him to sharply curtail the number of states he's competing in. Obama, meanwhile, is able to open up new fronts, while simultaneously pouring money into Democratic-leaning states, and finding new ways to reach voters via advertising and get-out-the-vote techniques.
In one striking example of Obama's financial prowess, Obama has purchased network TV time for the evening of Oct. 29. And he's continuing to build his ground operations in critical states, hiring staffers and opening offices in places where McCain is relying on volunteers.
The RNC has helped McCain retain a modicum of spending parity. But those funds are also needed for other purposes, primarily party get-out-the-vote efforts, and the McCain campaign, by law, can't have direct control of ad buys and messaging decisions.
With his campaign in full control of its bank account, Obama has launched a new advertising push in recent days in West Virginia and is pressing his case in North Carolina. Aides say they're still considering putting more resources into Georgia and North Dakota as well -- states that had long-ago faded from Democrats' realistic wish lists.
Obama's travel schedule over the final two weeks focuses heavily on states carried by President Bush in 2004, including Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Nevada, New Mexico, Ohio and Virginia. Obama is campaigning Thursday in Indiana, before leaving the trail to visit his ailing grandmother in Hawaii.
Perhaps most significantly, the financial edge allows the Obama campaign to play out the final stages of the campaign without having to make any of the gut-wrenching decisions that typically mark a campaign's close.
"We don't have to make tough choices," said one Obama aide, speaking on condition on anonymity. "We're able to fight in all the places we want to until the bitter end."
No recent Democratic candidate has had that luxury. In 2004, for instance, Kerry made strategic decisions to forego Missouri and West Virginia to keep his focus on Ohio and Florida -- both of which he eventually lost, along with the presidency.