Obama's Successes Dent Clinton Candidacy

The Associated Press
Monday, July 2, 2007; 7:51 PM

WASHINGTON -- For months, Hillary Rodham Clinton has been running her presidential campaign as a front-runner, establishing an image of steady inevitability. Barack Obama unsteadied her. By raising a dazzling $32.5 million and outpacing Clinton by $10 million in primary election money, Obama succeeded in making his chief rival look mortal.

Clinton still leads in national polls and is strong in early primary states like New Hampshire and Florida. Obama now leads in fundraising and number of donors _ an impressive 258,000 during the first six months of the year.

Neither ensures success in the voting booth.

But both Democrats now occupy a rarified place in the presidential field. Their campaigns can compete with overwhelming force against bantam candidates, such as John Edwards or Bill Richardson, who must run more targeted, all-eggs-in-one-basket campaigns.

Obama and Clinton now stand where George W. Bush stood in 2000. Bush was a well-financed candidate able to sustain a blow from Sen. John McCain in New Hampshire and outspend McCain to victory in subsequent primaries.

Edwards, Richardson and others with fewer resources can find solace in John Kerry, whose campaign was all but dead in 2003 before he borrowed $6 million against his Boston house and put all his effort into winning Iowa. The momentum out of Iowa helped Kerry overcome a 21 percentage point deficit in New Hampshire where his win translated into national momentum.

"Some of these candidates are in positions where Iowa is must win _ Edwards is in that situation," said Mark Mellman, who was Kerry's pollster in 2004. "Hillary and to some extent Obama can say they can afford to lose along the way and still have popularity and resources to live to fight another day."

Ultimately, the attention to fundraising shifts to spending. And that calculation is complicated by the accelerated pace of the nominating contests this presidential cycle. As the nominating calendar stands now, between Jan. 14 and Feb. 2, Democrats will compete in the Iowa and Nevada caucuses and the New Hampshire, Florida and South Carolina primaries.

Then the candidates will confront a Feb. 5 election tsunami where potentially more than 20 states, including New York and California, will hold caucuses or primaries.

In a memorandum to supporters on Sunday, Obama campaign manager David Plouffe signaled that the campaign was already looking beyond just the first round of contests.

"We are on a financial course that will allow us to both fully fund efforts in the early primary and caucus states, and also participate vigorously in all the February 5 contests, including large states like California, New Jersey, New York, Georgia and Missouri," he wrote.

Clinton's camp has been more circumspect, publicly focusing on the January contests. But she also has been spending money in California to build a presence in that state and her aides have been touting national polls that show her as the Democrat most able to defeat the leading Republican presidential candidates.

Significantly for Obama, one-third of his fundraising dollars came from online contributors. Of his 258,000 donors, 110,000 gave through the Internet. And of those online donations, 90 percent were for $100 or less.

That suggests a level of enthusiasm for his campaign and a donor base that, because it has not given the maximum, can keep on contributing throughout the campaign.

"I get teased because I talk a lot about hope and bringing people together and leaving behind the divisions of the past. Sometimes, the reporters, the folks in Washington, say I'm being naive. They call me a hope-monger, a hope-peddler. But I am absolutely convinced ... that's what people want," Obama said while campaigning in New Hampshire.

Obama's appeal is similar to Howard Dean's 2003-2004 presidential bid, when Dean tapped into a motivated, broad based army of supporters. They elevated Dean from obscure former Vermont governor to a national contender. But, in a cautionary tale for Obama, that grass-roots support never materialized as votes.

How the candidates are beginning to spend their money will become more evident when they file detailed finance reports in mid-July. Clinton has yet to air any television ads and Obama only went on the air with ads last week in Iowa. Edwards, Richardson and Sen. Chris Dodd, D-Conn., have been more aggressive with advertising, buying air time in Iowa and New Hampshire.

Edwards raised at least $9 million in the second quarter, Richardson raised $7 million and Dodd raised $3.25 million. On Monday, Delaware Sen. Joe Biden's campaign announced he raised $2.4 million during the last three months.

Obama and Clinton are on a pace to raise $90 million to $100 million each by the end of the year, a formidable sum that would allow them to eclipse the spending by Edwards, Richardson and others in states like Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina. Florida, which is scheduled to hold its primary Jan. 29, is an expensive media market. But Obama and Clinton will also have to decide whether to bank any money for media campaigns aimed at the Feb. 5 contests.

"The leaders can't spend it all in the early states," Mellman said. "On the other hand, they're not going to have enough just to muscle through on money alone in the February 5 states. They're going to have meaningful finances and some electoral momentum."

The Edwards and Richardson's camps are counting on momentum. Edwards aides have staked out a state-hopping strategy built on a goal of raising $40 million by the time of the Iowa caucuses. Edwards has been leading in Iowa public opinion polls.

In a teleconference with reporters on Sunday, Edwards' deputy campaign manager Jonathan Prince argued that their fundraising is more than adequate to remain competitive. Hinting at a base line expense for Iowa, Prince pointed out that the state's new Democratic governor, Chet Culver, won his election by spending $8 million.


EDITOR'S NOTE: Jim Kuhnhenn covers campaign fundraising and media for The Associated Press.

© 2007 The Associated Press