With Obama rivaling Clinton in fundraising for 2007's first 3 months, no Democrat is likely to achieve early dominance in presidential race

THE POLITICS OF MONEY

April 05, 2007|By John McCormick, Mike Dorning and Jill Zuckman | John McCormick, Mike Dorning and Jill Zuckman,CHICAGO TRIBUNE

CHICAGO -- Sen. Barack Obama's announcement yesterday that he has raised nearly as much money as Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton this year, bringing in $25 million for his presidential bid from a wide array of contributors, shakes up the race and makes it clear that no Democrat will attain the sort of early dominance that the former first lady had been trying to establish.

Clinton, who raised $26 million in January, February and March, might re-examine her strategy for fundraising and otherwise building support, which had been based on the idea that she was the overwhelming favorite for the Democratic nomination.

Obama's fundraising has largely undermined that strategy, showing his ability to appeal to a large number of donors, who in many cases made small contributions online.

Now that Clinton, Obama and other leading candidates have demonstrated that they can raise the millions needed to run a national campaign, the contest of ideas and personality can begin.

The Clinton campaign had been bracing for the Illinois senator's fundraising news for weeks, building expectations that he would put together an impressive total.

Her operatives, who once might have expected to outmuscle their opponents with money and organization, now say that winning the nomination is likely to take time, sweat and patience.

`Serious and credible'

"Anyone who can put together $25 million in a quarter comes off as a very serious and credible candidate," said Chris Lehane, who was the spokesman for Vice President Al Gore's presidential campaign in 2000. "Enough people have been around the block in the Clinton world that they understand this is a marathon, not a sprint."

Clinton's campaign said it is on pace with its goals and has no plans to make adjustments, despite raising only slightly more than Obama.

"We are thrilled with our historic fundraising success and congratulate Senator Obama and the entire Democratic field on their fundraising, which demonstrates the overwhelming desire for change in our country," Clinton campaign manager Patti Solis Doyle said.

Had the New York senator been able to raise far more than her competitors, it might have helped her build the kind of inevitability that surrounded Texas Gov. George W. Bush in 1999. His fundraising dominance helped drive challengers from the contest and secure the Republican nomination.

Obama, who reported nearly twice as many donors as Clinton, might have raised more for the primary campaign than Clinton, although that cannot be definitively known because her campaign has declined to say how much of its total is designated for the primary campaign and how much would be used for the general election.

"It's stunning," said Lou Susman, a Chicago investment banker who was Sen. John Kerry's national finance chairman and is now a senior Obama adviser. "Under any set of circumstances, we out-raised her for the primary."

Outsiders said they, too, were impressed by Obama's total.

"Senator Obama stood toe-to-toe with Senator Clinton and showed he had a broad fundraising base," said Anthony Corrado, a professor of government at Colby College in Maine who specializes in campaign finance.

Obama raised $6.9 million - more than a quarter of his total - over the Internet from more than 50,000 online donors, supporters his campaign hopes will become regular donors. His campaign said 90 percent of the online contributions were for $100 or less.

All of the campaigns are aggressively courting online donors, partly because they contribute more efficiently, without the cost of fundraising events or postage.

Joe Trippi, who managed Howard Dean's Democratic presidential campaign in 2004, said the number of donors that a candidate attracts can be an important gauge of fundraising potential.

"If you have the same amount of money but more donors, fewer of them have maxed out," he said.

Contributions limited

Campaign finance law limits individual contributions to $2,300 to a candidate for the primary season and another $2,300 for the general election.

Trippi said the fundraising totals show that all three of the major Democratic candidates have sufficient strength to maintain their campaigns, and he cautioned against reading too much into the rankings of their totals.

"John Kerry did not come in first in the first quarter last time, and Dean came in last," Trippi said. "People who have raised the most or second-most before have faltered."

Former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards led Democratic primary candidates in fundraising during the first quarter of 2003. This year, he reported raising $14 million, the third-highest total among Democrats.

Clinton said she plans to add $10 million from her Senate campaign fund, which would bring her total to $36 million for the presidential race.

Obama received contributions from more than 100,000 people, his campaign said. Clinton received donations from about 50,000 people, and Edwards from about 37,000 people.

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