The top-5 finishers in the Iowa Republican caucus had widely varying degrees of success in turning money spent into votes received. According to data published by BuzzFeed, showing how much was spent on Iowa media ads by each candidate (or by the super PACs and others who supported them), here’s how many votes each candidate received for every $1,000 spent:
Votes received per $1,000 spent:
1. Rick Santorum, 49
2. Newt Gingrich, 11
3. Ron Paul, 10
4. Mitt Romney, 6
5. Rick Perry, 2
To be sure, raising money is a big part of the game. Still, any Republican nominee would have a vast war chest to draw upon versus Obama, as the party and its backers would coalesce around that candidate. Conversely, the candidates who are now operating at a big financial advantage would eventually have to operate without that advantage — and, indeed, probably at a disadvantage — versus Obama.
It’s one thing for a well-financed candidate or two to do (relatively) well now, when they have a lot of money to spend and little is being spent against them. But how would they fare against Obama’s war chest? On the other hand, Gingrich — who bore the brunt of the negative advertising in Iowa — showed that he can get a respectable percentage of the vote (slightly more than the 13 percent tally that John McCain received in Iowa in 2008) even when facing a distinct financial disadvantage.
The following chart compares the percentage of the overall ad money that was spent by each candidate, the percentage of ads that were run against each candidate, and each candidate’s respective share of the vote:
As the chart conveys, Gingrich was the only one of the five leading Republican candidates who faced a net financial disadvantage in Iowa. Santorum would have, but no one else bothered to run negative ads against him, so he actually ended up spending more money than was spent against him. (Note: the percentage of ad money spent by a candidate and the percentage of ads run against a candidate are not completely analogous, but they are close enough to sketch a relatively accurate picture.)
Perry, meanwhile, had the biggest net financial advantage. He spent 39 percent of the overall ad money that was spent in the race, while the other candidates pretty much ignored him. (Only 8 percent of the ads were run against him.) Yet Perry still got the smallest percentage of the vote of any of the candidates listed above.
Readers can judge for themselves whether Gingrich’s, Santorum’s, Romney’s, or Paul’s respective percentages of the vote are more impressive, in light of the net financial advantage or disadvantage that each candidate faced (although it’s hard to imagine how anyone could rank Romney or Paul above Santorum in this regard). The important point is that, in the general election race, the Republican nominee likely won’t be operating at a huge financial advantage or disadvantage. Instead, the GOP nominee will have to compete on a playing field that is relatively even but is probably tilted somewhat toward Obama. It will be up to Republican voters to decide who they think can win without the advantage of being able to outspend the competition.