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Photo: Adam Bettcher/Getty Images

Having lots of money at the beginning of a presidential race — or even at the end — matters much less than it did in the past.

Be smart: President Trump probably could have won in 2016 with no money. You can’t put a price tag on free Twitter coverage, free cable coverage and all the stories flowing from both.

Expand chart
Data: Federal Election Commission; Chart: Harry Stevens/Axios

The big picture: Huge out-of-the-gate dollar advantages for Hillary Clinton in 2008 or Jeb Bush in 2016 didn't help them over the finish line.

  • There's a long history of rich people trying and failing to win elections with money: Meg Whitman, Carly Fiorina, Linda McMahon, etc.
  • Such presidential follies go all the way back to Ross Perot in 1992, and are likely to be continued by Howard Schultz this cycle. David Koch was the Libertarian Party candidate for vice president in 1980!

The bottom line: In many ways, the money primary is not important because money is important, but rather because it helps determine which candidates are taken seriously by the media.

A bare minimum of money is necessary to staff a campaign, keep it on the road, and keep its vital functions on track — although Trump might have effectively disproved even that. Beyond that bare minimum, money tends to go in two directions: consultants and TV ads.

  • Candidates still spend the lion's share of their funds on TV ads, because that's where the boomers are, and boomers are very likely to vote. But TV ads are hard to target effectively, and they always come at a premium: Many swing-state local TV stations are happy to lose money three years in a row, just because they know that presidential election campaigns will be like money from helicopters.
  • TV ads have never been less effective in terms of persuading the electorate whom they should vote for — because the electorate has never been this polarized.

In 2020, earned (free) media will, once again, be of paramount importance. And this time, the earned media that matters will increasingly be social — especially Facebook and Instagram — rather than TV.

  • While some people are persuaded by TV, many more are persuaded by their friends and peers.

Go deeper ... 2020 presidential election: Track every candidate's Q1 fundraising totals

Go deeper

The front-runners for Biden's Supreme Court pick

Judge Kentaji Brown Jackson (left) and Justice Leondra Kruger (right) Tom Williams-Pool/Getty Images and Lonnie Tague, US Department of Justice

Two highly accomplished Black female judges — Ketanji Brown Jackson, a judge on the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals; and Leondra Kruger, a justice on the California Supreme Court — are seen as the early front-runners to replace retiring Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer.

The big picture: Jackson is a powerful federal judge with a record that progressives feel they can trust. Kruger was a highly regarded litigator and has carved out a reputation for working well with conservative judges.

Fed: Rate hikes are near

The Federal Reserve's headquarters building. Photo: Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images

The Federal Reserve is on track to raise its main target interest rate in mid-March, as Chair Jerome Powell pledged to be "humble and nimble" in adapting policy to a fast-changing economy.

Why it matters: Fed leaders are looking to choke off inflation by raising interest rates in the near future, but keeping its options open for how fast and far the effort will go.

How long it’s taken to confirm Supreme Court justices

Expand chart
Data: Axios research, U.S. Supreme Court, Supreme Court Historical Society; Chart: Jacque Schrag/Axios

It takes a U.S. president an average of 70 days from the date a Supreme Court seat is vacated to nominate a replacement, according to data from the Supreme Court Historical Society.

Why it matters: With news outlets reporting liberal Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer's plans to retire, Democrats will be looking to confirm President Biden's nominee with enough time to refocus the national political debate ahead of the midterms.