Sens. John F. Kerry (Mass.) and John Edwards (N.C.) surged ahead of other prospective Democratic presidential candidates in fundraising for their 2004 campaigns, according to reports filed with the Federal Election Commission. But they revealed strikingly different strategies in their early financial maneuvers.

Kerry's opponents acknowledge that he, along with House Minority Leader Richard A. Gephardt (Mo.), has been most successful raising "hard money" that can be transferred directly into a presidential campaign.

Conversely, Edwards raised large "soft money" contributions, which will be banned as of Nov. 6. Edwards has channeled much of the soft money into buying computers and other equipment for the New Hampshire and Iowa Democratic parties, winning him gratitude in those two key states.

The obvious beneficiaries of these early fundraising battles are the Democratic candidates running for the Senate, governor and other statewide offices in Iowa, New Hampshire and, with its new early date on the primary calendar, South Carolina.

New Hampshire Gov. Jeanne Shaheen (D), who is running for Senate, has received $1,000 from Kerry's political action committee; $5,000 from the PAC of Senate Majority Leader Thomas A. Daschle (S.D.); $5,000 from Gephardt's PAC; $10,000 from Edwards's PAC; $10,000 from the PAC of Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman (Conn.); and $1,000 from Vermont Gov. Howard Dean.

Although political aficionados examine in detail the quarterly and monthly reports of the likely presidential candidates -- including 2000 nominee Al Gore -- a number of factors make comparisons unfair.

For example, Kerry and Gephardt are up for reelection this year. Because neither faces serious opposition, both are positioned to press donors for support in ways their competitors cannot. In addition, the money raised for a reelection committee can be legally transferred to a full-scale presidential committee, unlike the cash flowing to the leadership PACs that are dominating the fundraising activities of Gore, Lieberman and Edwards.

Edwards, a trial lawyer before winning office, has raised nearly $2 million in large soft money contributions, mostly from members of the plaintiffs' bar. He has contributed $104,775 in soft money to Iowa's Democratic Party and $109,129 to New Hampshire's.

Edwards's PAC has a $2.4 million balance, including about $1.7 million in soft money that he will have to spend by Nov. 6. Edwards's Senate committee has $2 million, which can be transferred to a presidential bid, but the committee owes Edwards $6.2 million that he put into his election.

Kerry has focused most of his effort on building the cash balance in his reelection committee, which is $3.4 million. The less he spends on his Senate campaign, the more he will have to run for president. Over the past six months, Kerry has raised about $500,000 for his leadership PAC, the Citizen Soldier Fund.

In the last quarter, Gephardt demonstrated strength raising hard money -- $850,000 for his reelection committee, giving him a cash balance of $1.5 million. He has raised $434,205 in hard and soft money for his PAC and given $157,310 to state and federal candidates.

Gore did little fundraising during the last quarter, adding $296,457 to his PAC while he finished writing a book. An aide said Gore has a large donor base and name recognition that "is better than all the others combined."

Lieberman's PAC raised $542,157 in the last quarter, for a total of $1.2 million this year. He has given $279,150 to other candidates, including $10,000 to Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack and $10,000 to New Hampshire Democratic Party committees.

Daschle's Leadership PAC raised $386,149 in hard money in the last quarter and $478,742 for the half-year. He also raised $1.1 million in soft money. He has given $90,000 to federal candidates this year.

Dean had modest fundraising success. Over the past three months, his presidential exploratory committee pulled in $32,450, and his PAC, the Fund for a Healthy America, raised $21,047.