Newcomers' Fundraising Shakes Up Field

By Chris Cillizza Staff Writer
Wednesday, April 4, 2007; 3:20 PM

Amid a sea of seasoned politicians, two new faces stole the headlines this week in the critical chase for campaign cash.

Sen. Barack Obama's (D-Ill.) announcement today that he had raised $25 million during the first three months of the year rocked the Democratic field, just as former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney's $21 million haul shook up the Republican side a few days ago. Most of Obama's money and all of Romney's take can be spent in the primaries next year, giving the two a huge advantage over some of their rivals whose funds must be divided between their primary and general election campaigns.

Obama and Romney have each won just a single election to statewide office and have spent a combined six years in those posts. Statewide and national polls have shown Obama running second or third behind Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton and former Sen. John Edwards in the Democratic race, while Romney on the Republican side had been mired in the single digits before his recent surge in popularity in New Hampshire and Iowa.

So, why then were they able to outshine far better known political commodities like Clinton (N.Y.) and Arizona Republican Sen. John McCain?

"We are coming off of back-to-back eight year runs in the White House," said Alex Vogel, a GOP lobbyist not affiliated with any of the current presidential candidates. "It makes sense that the American people are interested and enamored with new brands."

This is the first time since 1952 that neither party has an incumbent president or vice president seeking the nomination of their party. The wide-open nature of the field coupled with the presence of several high-profile candidates on each side has created an excitement and interest among voters that has not been seen in recent political history.

In a bid to capitalize on that hunger for change, Romney and Obama both have played up their credentials as outsiders -- promising voters a departure from the status quo in Washington.

For Obama, a charismatic speaker, that means a laser-like focus on his long-held opposition to the war in Iraq. The war has proved to be the single most animating issue for many Democratic primary voters who are disappointed in Clinton for supporting the 2002 use-of-force resolution against Iraq and who has not been forceful enough in her more recent condemnation of the conflict.

Romney's message is less issue-centric. Instead, the former businessman and governor offers a broad call for "innovation and transformation" that, he subtly suggests, has been missing from his party of late.

"Even as America faces a new generation of challenges, the halls of government are clogged with petty politics and stuffed with peddlers of influence," Romney said in his announcement speech.

The surprising financial strength of Obama and Romney seems to show that their messages are resonating in dramatic fashion.

In some ways, Obama's campaign finance success is more surprising than that of Romney's. Romney was the immediate past chairman of the Republican Governors Association as well as a co-founder of Bain Capital and the head of the 2002 Salt Lake City winter Olympics, which were all lucrative fundraising avenues. Obama, in contrast, arrived in the Senate in 2004 with a skeleton of a national fundraising operation and was forced to build one on the fly after formally announcing his candidacy just ten weeks ago.

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