Bring on the Big Bucks

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Sarah Palin speaks at a rally in Anaheim, California in October. credit: AP Photo/Jae C. Hong

Many people asked me over the last week whether I would be going to the annual CPAC convocation taking place at the Marriott Wardman Park Hotel in Washington. I explained that while I have covered the event in the past, I stopped maybe a decade or so ago because most of the people who attend the CPAC meeting are in no way representative of the Republican Party as a whole.

Don't get me wrong; I find it very enjoyable to sit back and watch a rough approximation of a cross section of one party's voters listen to and evaluate their party's potential presidential contenders. Watching their faces and body language, listening to their questions, and probing their reactions are all enormously enlightening. 

But let's face it. Any group that holds a straw poll that Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas, wins in back-to-back years by definition isn't representative of much of anything beyond maybe the most extreme slice of one party.

Further, this event has been so thoroughly and easily manipulated over the years that it is more an auction than an election. The goal has become which camp can buy up the most tickets and stuff as many college kids or recent graduates into a hall at one time.

A good question might be why so many reporters waste several days going, but the answer is clear: If you cover presidential electoral politics, there is nothing else going on right now.

This isn't a partisan or ideological view. Watching a group of Democratic contenders pander to ACORN (or whatever they are called now) or some other liberal group would also provide little understanding of the 2012 playing field.

I am content to wait until a little later in the year when those who are really intent on running actually start spending a lot of time in Iowa and New Hampshire. Seeing these hopefuls speak before groups of regular voters will be interesting, and there's a little more dignity to the process.

Until that comes, though, a better use of time is to figure out which of these candidates might be able to raise enough money to have a legitimate chance of winning. A sobering figure to consider is that President Obama raised a total of $745.7 million to get elected.

For just the nomination fight, then-Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., raised $223.9 million and former Sen. John Edwards, D-N.C., took in $48.2 million.

On the Republican side, Sen. John McCain of Arizona raised $219.6 million to win the nomination, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney raised $105.2 million (including $44.7 million from himself), former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani raised $58.7 million, Paul raised $34.5 million, and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee pulled in $16.1 million.

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Charlie Cook is editor and publisher of The Cook Political Report and a political analyst for National Journal.

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