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Dems For 2008: Money, Organization Signal Crucial Time

Democrats
CNBC.com
Democrats

There are a couple ways to tell that we’ve hit the critical competitive phase of the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination fight. One is the way that all major campaigns are now spending a large chunk of the millions they’ve raised on television ads in Iowa.

The state’s Jan. 3 caucuses have traditionally turned on contest may once have turned overwhelmingly on organizational prowess. But because participation has grown so dramatically, television ads are nearly as important there as in traditional primary contests.

So by investing $800,000 on his first major flight of commercials--with a 60-second spot celebrating the “Heroes” of everyday life--John Edwards has fully joined Barack Obama in the television contest. Obama has spent about $4-million so far, Clinton about $3 million, aides say. All three plan to remain on the air through Jan. 3.

But organization still counts for something. And the organizations of all candidates in both parties have a new strategic variable to grapple with this time around: the fact that the last 10 days of the contest begin on Christmas Day.

One goal of Clinton’s additional 100 operatives is to reach older women who like the front-runner but may be distracted from Jan. 3 caucuses by Christmas season responsibilities. Team Obama faces mirror-image problem: mobilizing sympathetic college students who will be away from campus on holiday break.

Among Republicans, Romney’s Iowa chief Gentry Collins argues the holiday week mood “makes it harder” for rivals to erode his lead with negative ads. Because holiday shoppers will ignore better-funded campaigns’ spots, Huckabee campaign manager Chip Saltsman says, “our biggest asset will be…Santa Claus.”

The delicious thing for those of us watching for a living is the sheer unpredictability of this x-factor. “Anybody who tells you they know what the impact is,” Democratic pollster Mark Mellman told me, “is making it up.”

Questions? Comments? Write to politicalcapital@cnbc.com.