Sen. Barack Obama is using his huge fundraising advantage to swamp Sen. John McCain in spending on everything from television advertising to campaign staff and offices, complicating McCain's drive to score a come-from-behind victory in the final weeks of the presidential race.
Obama is now outspending McCain on television ads by a margin of nearly four to one, according to Evan Tracey, chief operating officer of CMAG, a service that tracks political advertising. In some key TV markets in battleground states, Obama has been airing $1 million or more in ads a week, while the McCain campaign has aired no ads, Tracey said.
"It's a shock and awe strategy," said Bill Hillsman, an independent political consultant whose clients have included Ralph Nader and former Gov. Jesse Ventura of Minnesota.
"The sheer magnitude of all this advertising in a compressed period of time, gives them a pretty clear advantage … They are really using it as a big club right now."
For more on Obama's fundraising, watch "World News" this evening. Check your local listings for air time.
Obama's advantage on the Internet has been even more lopsided. His campaign paid for 914.5 million displays of ads on Web sites like Yahoo.com and aol.com in September, while the McCain campaign had only 7.9 million display ads on the Web, according to the ratings service Nielsen Online.
The Obama campaign's dominance also extends to the more traditional tools of political warfare, such as field workers and campaign offices.
In Ohio, one of the most contested battleground states, Obama has 89 campaign offices and more than 300 staffers, to an estimated 40 offices for the McCain campaign. In Indiana, a Republican-leaning state that Obama is heavily contesting, his campaign had 39 offices around the state as of Oct. 6, to none for McCain.
"It's like the Roman times, where they just sent legions and legions of people into the fight, and used their numbers to pick off the enemy," Hillsman said.
The imbalance is expected to be even more pronounced in the closing days of the campaign after the Obama camp announced on Sunday it had reeled in more than $150 million in donations in September, smashing all fundraising records.
This advantage largely is the result of Obama's decision to go back on his pledge to participate in the public campaign finance system.
He is free to raise and spend whatever he wants, while McCain's spending in the general election -- from the end of the Republican convention to Election Day -- is limited to the $84.1 million he is receiving in public funds.
Asked about the imbalance, McCain spokesman Brian Rogers said Obama "broke his word" when he realized he was successful at "raising these megabucks."
"He signed on the dotted line that if he won the nomination he would work with John McCain to make sure there would be a publicly funded general election, and to limit spending. … I think what the American people are looking for is someone in the White House they can trust, and I think Barack Obama in the campaign has proven his word cannot be trusted."
The Obama campaign is making no apologies for its flip-flop, spokesman Nick Shapiro said.
"The system has been so gamed and exploited by our opponents that it is effectively broken," campaign manager David Plouffe wrote in an e-mail to supporters over the summer that explained Obama's decision to pull out of the campaign finance system.
Obama's spending advantages have helped him to build a lead in the polls, and they threaten to make McCain's uphill climb to win the election even steeper, independent analysts said.
The spending has enabled Obama to solidify his position in Democratic-leaning states like Michigan and contest several Republican-leaning states like Virginia and North Carolina, forcing Team McCain to spend money defending political turf it had expected to be secure.
Indeed, in an e-mail to supporters Sunday morning, Plouffe said the Obama campaign has begun contesting West Virginia and is eyeing Georgia and North Dakota, Republican-dominated states where polls show the race tightening.
In state after state, McCain's spending is being dwarfed by Obama's.
In Virginia, a state that no Democratic presidential candidate has won since 1964, the Obama campaign boasts 49 campaign offices and 200 paid staffers on the ground, to just two dozen offices and 50 paid staffers for the McCain campaign.
In one recent week, Obama bombarded northern Virginia with 1,200 television commercials broadcast on Washington D.C. stations at a cost of $2.7 million, while the McCain campaign ran no ads at all that week, Tracey said.
"And these were not just 30-second spots," Tracey said. "There were one-minute and two-minute commercials – mini-programs in advertising terms."
In Florida, the Obama campaign aired 1,066 commercials in the Miami market at a cost of $1.3 million in the week that ended Oct. 4, while McCain ran no ads in the market, Tracey said.
An analysis by CMAG and the Wisconsin Advertising Project found that Obama outspent McCain in television ads by more than three to one in Florida and Virginia that week, and by margins of more than two to one in New Hampshire and an overwhelming eight to one in North Carolina.
The two campaigns were roughly even in spending in Colorado, Michigan, New Mexico, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, the analysis found.
The Republican National Committee has tried to narrow the advertising gap, running its own ads to complement those launched by the McCain campaign. The national GOP also is using its resources to supplement the McCain campaign's get-out-the-vote operation.
"McCain is trying to stretch his dollars" through the RNC's participation, said David Magleby, a political scientist and dean of social sciences at Brigham Young University. "They have been doing this a lot."
Still, the spending advantage clearly is with Obama. With his lode of cash, he has been able to buy a television "roadblock" – a half-hour block of time on the broadcast networks – at 8 p.m. on Oct. 29, at a cost of several million dollars.
Obama has become the first presidential candidate to place ads in video games, inserting political messages that can be seen by players of 18 online Xbox video games in 10 battleground states.
The ads appear in the games as banners or billboards with an image of Obama, the slogan "Early voting has begun," and a reference to his VoteForChange.com Web site, where visitors can register to vote, obtain absentee voter information and find polling locations.
Obama's resources also have allowed him to exploit other relatively new technologies as well, such as text messaging. His campaign has created a two-way messaging service that allows voters to text questions to the campaign and receive alerts about rallies in their communities.
The Obama fusillade, especially on television, threatens to all but drown out McCain's final arguments to voters in the crucial closing days of the race.
"There is no precedent for this. Obama is off public financing and rewriting the record books," Tracey said.
"The fact is, this is not a good time for the Republican brand, and it is even harder when the Republican candidate is in a shouting match with a candidate who essentially has a bullhorn."