Political operatives and press people talk amongst themselves about paid media and free or earned media. Paid media is just that: media (TV, radio, online ads) that the campaign pays to place before voters to see. Free media is what you get by appearances, talking to reporters, going on TV or radio to do interviews, press releases, sparring back-and-forth with your opponent in ways that newspapers, radio, TV and websites will report about the candidate and the campaign.
But looking at the fundaising numbers starting to come out from the Republican candidates for president, I think we have to expand the definition of free media to include serious coverage of presidential candidates just because they say they’re running for president, even if their fundraising shows their candidacies aren’t serious.
Jon Huntsman’s winning the battle for the DC/NYC media elite vote, but despite all the fawning coverage from the big media, he only raised about $2 million dollars. That’s about enough to wage a competitive Congressional campaign. It’s also less than 1/25th the amount Barack Obama had raised by the end of the second quarter in 2007.
Tim Pawlenty did a little better. He raised a bit over $4 million dollars. That’s less than half of the $10 million that Chris Dodd–remember his presidential campaign?–had raised by this point four years ago. It’s also closer to the amount raised by this point in 2007 by Mike Gravel than it is the amount raised by Chris Dodd. In fact, if you add up the totals of Pawlenty and Huntsman, they’re still at less than half the $13 million that Bill Richardson–remember his presidential campaign?–had raised by this point in 2007.
In the last presidential campaign, Dennis Kucinich was not allowed in to some of the later Democratic debates because he was not meeting minimum thresholds used to determine whether he was running a serious campaign. With their fundraising totals barely higher than Kucinich’s and their poll numbers about the same, it’s hard to say Pawlenty and Huntsman are more serious candidates for President in 2011 than Dennis Kucinich was in 2007…except in terms of free media, of which they’re getting plenty.