In a presidential race, there may be nothing more revealing about a candidate's philosophy than the way they spend their money. In most elections, the spending is similar on both sides – everyone in politics has the same ideas about what works, and they are just tinkering on the margins. But, as the latest campaign finance reports show, the 2016 election once again provides divergent paths for two very different candidates.
Unsurprisingly, Hillary Clinton is running a traditional campaign that mimics the contemporary races run by Bush and Obama, as well as their defeated opponents. Clinton's team has focused is on raising big heaps of money from donors, which are then spent primarily on television ads. Her other big outlay is personnel – presumably at this stage this is not for paying off advisors, but rather for developing a strong "ground game" – teams of employees in the swing states who will work with volunteers to get voters to the ballot box and drive up her turnout.
Ever since Al Gore's surprise popular vote totals in 2000, turnout has been a major focus. Bush's 2004 campaign and both of Obama's victories witnessed widely praised canvassing operations, resulting in higher than expected results for the two candidates. Hillary Clinton's team clearly believes a strong ground game will be key to her efforts. Strong early voting numbers suggests that this strategy may be working.
Trump's campaign report points to a very different race. Unlike every nominee in recent years, he has not focused on big money donations – most of his money has been raked in from smaller donors through online and direct mail solicitations. The big money bundlers that have ruled the political sphere this century for the most part do not seem to exist for Trump.
Along the same lines, while he has repeatedly said that he will be spending big on campaign ads, the money has not primarily gone to TV advertising. Instead, he has split the money between TV and online ads. The online ads help drive small dollar figure donations, but they are general not seen in and of themselves as important as blanketing the television airwaves.