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In Money Race, Obama Has the Advantage

Hillary Rodham Clinton officially suspended her campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination Saturday at a rally in Washington, DC. "The way to continue our fight now ... is to take our energy, our passion, our strength, and do all we can to help elect Barack Obama the next president of the United States," she told her supporters.

Their confidence in Obama's ability to far exceed the federal amount stems in part from discussions with top Clinton fundraisers, who helped bring in $214 million for her bid. "I was talking to them all day yesterday and today," Berger said. "They're not difficult conversations."

Several veteran campaign strategists from both parties said Obama's potential financial edge could emerge as a significant barrier for McCain, particularly as the two candidates start to organize efforts in key battleground states.

McCain will have to consider the expensive advertising costs in places such as New Jersey and California when deciding whether to try to compete there, said Evan Tracey of the Campaign Media Analysis Group.

"If I'm McCain, I've got to be a little intimidated by the kind of money Obama can raise," Tracey said. "I mean, McCain basically has got to outmaneuver Obama. He's got to guess right on issues, timing and markets pretty much every time between now and November."

Mike Stratton, a Colorado-based Democratic political consultant, said money could prove more important in 2008, because both Obama and McCain intend to make strong appeals to independent voters and in more states than in previous elections.

"I think they'll both find they have lots of states that are not locked in, states where both camps have the ability to play, and they'll have to decide how to spread out their resources," Stratton said.

Scott Reed, a Washington political strategist who managed Sen. Robert J. Dole's presidential campaign in 1996 and is close to McCain, said the candidate is no doubt aware of the financial impediments he faces.

"This will not be a traditional button-down campaign; McCain cannot afford that," Reed said. "I think you can expect to see the old playbook thrown out the window."

Reed suggested that an early example of this is McCain's offer to hold a lengthy series of town-hall-style discussions with Obama. "Bringing the circus to town brings you a week of free media," he said.

He also predicted that McCain would name his vice presidential pick early, in part to generate media attention during a normally quiet period during the summer.

Meanwhile, the RNC has begun preparing for the enhanced role it will play if McCain takes public funding after the party's convention. RNC officials said they have been investing heavily in the voter files and commercial data that allow them to narrowly target their appeals to various groups of voters. The party has also moved quickly to establish a Victory Fund program that enables it to raise money in tandem with the candidate and with state committees.

Democrats have launched a similar program, though the DNC's fundraising efforts have lagged. Officials there say that has been largely a result of the protracted primary. This week, the party also invoked rules matching Obama's self-imposed restrictions on not taking money from federal lobbyists and political action committees.

RNC Chairman Mike Duncan said that while McCain probably will not have as much money as Obama, he will have enough to be competitive. "A year ago, people were writing him off," Duncan said. "He proved that the person with the most amount of money doesn't always win."

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