Obama rivals Clinton in fund raising

Thursday, April 5, 2007

DAVENPORT, Iowa -- With a stunning $25 million fund-raising haul for his presidential campaign, Democrat Barack Obama affirmed his status Wednesday as Hillary Rodham Clinton's chief rival.

The freshman Illinois senator proved he could channel his appeal into significant financial muscle, and he dispelled, for now, questions about the durability of his anti-war, "hope"-driven candidacy.

Obama's three-month money total stopped just short of the record $26 million Clinton brought in. By any measure, it was an astonishing figure for a political newcomer elected to the U.S. Senate just two years ago.

Obama was in Iowa Wednesday, with a rally in Mason City planned for the afternoon. In an e-mail message to supporters, he said his fund-raising success represented "an unmistakable message to the political establishment in Washington about the power and seriousness of our challenge."

His campaign released additional details illustrating the breadth of Obama's support. He had 100,000 contributors in the first quarter, with more than half donating online for a total of $6.9 million. Clinton, by contrast, had about 50,000 contributors and raised $4.2 million online.

$23.5 million for primary

The campaign said at least $23.5 million of the $25 million total was available to be used in the highly competitive primary race. The Clinton campaign has yet to disclose how much of her $26 million can be used for the primary and how much was earmarked for the general election.

Obama's strong showing was a blow to Clinton, who sought to position herself as her party's strongest White House contender in part through her fund-raising prowess. She has spent years developing a national fund-raising network through two Senate campaigns and her husband's eight years as president.

Obama began his campaign with a relatively small donor base concentrated largely in Illinois, his home state. But his early opposition to the Iraq war and voter excitement over his quest to be the first black president quickly fueled a powerful fund-raising machine.

He attracted Wall Street executives and big-money Hollywood moguls like billionaire David Geffen, a former Clinton supporter who shifted allegiances. But he also focused on smaller donations and raised money in several small cities, a practice Clinton aides say she will follow this quarter.

Still, her strategists point to numerous state and national polls that show Obama consistently trailing Clinton. A new poll of New Hampshire Democrats by CNN and WMUR showed Edwards surging into second place. Clinton was leading with 27 percent, Edwards had 21 percent and Obama 20 percent.

'Desire for change'

Clinton was at home in New York Wednesday and had no comment on Obama's announcement. But her campaign manager, Patti Solis Doyle, issued a statement congratulating Obama and said the fundraising of all the Democratic contenders "demonstrates the overwhelming desire for change in our country."

Indeed, first-quarter financial tallies show the Democrats vastly outpacing their GOP counterparts. Preliminary figures show the Democrats raised about $80 million combined, while Republicans pulled in only about $40 million.

Former North Carolina senator John Edwards reported $14 million in new contributions, including $1 million for the general election.

New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson said he had raised $6 million and had more than $5 million cash on hand.

Aides to Connecticut Sen. Chris Dodd said he raised more than $4 million and transferred nearly $5 million from his Senate campaign, for a total of $9 million in receipts and $7.5 million cash on hand. Delaware Sen. Joe Biden lagged behind, with his staff reporting that he had total receipts of nearly $4 million, nearly half of which was transferred from his Senate campaign account.

Among the Republican candidates, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney was the top money-raiser with $23 million, another eye-catching sum that placed him in the same league with Clinton and Obama and left his GOP rivals in the dust.

Former New York City Mayor Giuliani raised $15 million for the quarter, while Arizona Sen. John McCain posted $12.5 million. Giuliani leads the GOP field in national popularity polls, followed by McCain.

For his part, Giuliani said Wednesday he was impressed with Obama's money totals.

"Congratulations. I admire his fundraising ability. It shows he has a tremendous amount of support," Giuliani told reporters in Florida.

But Edwards said in an interview with Davenport, Iowa, television station KWQC that the prodigious campaign fundraising was evidence that presidential races should be publicly financed.

"We shouldn't be doing these money contests. They're not healthy, they're not good for democracy," Edwards said.

Clinton made a similar plea for public financing Monday, even though she was the first candidate to completely opt out of the public funding system since it was established over 30 years ago. Since then, both Obama and Edwards have followed suit.

Donors can give just $2,300 apiece for the primary election, but Clinton, Obama and Edwards can also solicit another $2,300 from each donor to be used in the general election. The money has to be returned if they don't win the nomination.

Clinton's campaign often solicited the $4,600 donations, while Obama's campaign focused on recruiting small dollar donors. In the coming months, he can return to those donors and ask those who haven't maxed out to give more.

But Fred Hochberg, a top Clinton fundraiser, said it was important to remember that Clinton had still come out on top.

"She did spectacularly well," Hochberg said. "It would be one thing if Hillary raised $14 million or something, but she did so much better than that. If fundraising is a show if strength, she shows enormous strength."

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