Sen. John Edwards's presidential campaign announced yesterday it raised $7.4 million through the first quarter of 2003, a demonstration of fundraising strength comparable to that of President Bush and Al Gore during the same period in 1999.

The other major Democratic presidential candidates have yet to release their first-quarter reports, although Robert Gibbs, a spokesman for Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.), called Edwards's total "impressive." A source in another competitive campaign said, "They did a great job; $7.4 million is a big number."

Candidates often play a cat-and-mouse game with fundraising figures, with each hoping to show an impressive number that will encourage further donations and perhaps dampen enthusiasm for rivals. The Federal Election Commission requires first-quarter reports to be filed by April 15.

In 1999, the Bush campaign raised $7.6 million by March 31, and the Gore campaign pulled in $8.9 million. The record for presidential fundraising in the first quarter of the year before the election year was set in 1995 by then-Sen. Phil Gramm (R-Tex.), who raised $13.5 million.

Edwards, a first-term senator from North Carolina, said in a statement: "I am thrilled by the support I have received from all across the country. . . . We are off to a terrific start and I am enormously grateful to the thousands of supporters who contributed to my campaign."

Kerry and Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman (D-Conn.) are expected to release fundraising figures today, with other campaigns to follow shortly. Bush has not formally created a campaign committee, so he is not required to file a report.

Buyer's War Is Over

After he made a dramatic exit from the House last week, it turns out Rep. Steve Buyer (R-Ind.) isn't headed to war in Iraq after all.

Buyer, a lawyer and Army reservist, told colleagues in a letter Monday night that the Army had decided he would not be deployed to " 'Operation Iraqi Freedom' due to my high-profile status as a U.S. representative. Concern was expressed that my presence would place in jeopardy the safety of those serving around me, given [the] security environment in the theater of operations. I will now immediately return to Congress."

Buyer served as an Army lawyer during the first Persian Gulf War. When he returned, he campaigned for the seat of then-Rep. Jim Jontz (D-Ind.) with combat boots slung over a shoulder.

Buyer -- who thought he would serve at a prisoner-of-war camp in the Gulf region -- thanked colleagues for granting emergency leave. He said it allowed him "to spend time with my family, pack my gear and study the pertinent international law and Geneva Conventions needed based upon the last Gulf War." But it appears the books will go back on the shelf.

John P. Feehery, spokesman for Speaker J. Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.), said, "We're glad to have him back."

Staff writer Juliet Eilperin contributed to this report.