Obama’s $32.5M outpaces Clinton, other Democrats

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WASHINGTON – Presidential candidate Barack Obama on Sunday reported raising a formidable $32.5 million during the past three months, breaking records for a Democratic candidate and demonstrating surging financial strength.

The Illinois senator’s fundraising total placed him well ahead of his rivals in securing donor support and building cash for what is expected to be an extremely costly nominating season.

Of Obama’s total, $31 million can be used for the primary campaign, half again as much as the $21 million reported by Sen. Hillary Clinton of New York. Including primary and general election funds, her campaign said it raised “in the range” of $27 million during the quarter.

That means Obama has outraised Clinton both during this most recent quarter and for the first six months of 2007.

The second quarter ended at midnight Saturday, amid a barrage of appeals from the campaigns for last-minute contributions. The candidates must file detailed disclosures by July 15, but are free to release figures earlier, something none of the major Republican candidates did Sunday.

While money is just one ingredient in a campaign, Obama’s fundraising pace puts his candidacy on a course to match and possibly exceed the resources available to a former first lady who came to the campaign with broad ties to the Democratic establishment and a ready-made donor base.

Still, despite the celebrity media coverage Obama has received since he arrived on the national stage in 2004, he is a much less familiar figure to most voters than Clinton. And the advertising that campaigns traditionally use to introduce voters to a candidate can be expensive.

Obama began advertising last week, with two television commercials in Iowa introducing his biography to voters. Clinton, who leads in national polls, has not yet begun advertising.

The Obama campaign stressed the breadth of its fundraising support, reporting that more than 154,000 new donors had given during the April-June period for a total donor database of 258,000. The Clinton campaign had about 60,000 donors in the first quarter, but did not release a total for the last three months.

“Together, we have built the largest grass-roots campaign in history for this stage of a presidential race,” Obama said in a statement.

Obama’s fundraising receipts were the largest quarterly total ever for a Democratic candidate during an off-election year. President Bush, who raised $35.1 million as an incumbent president during the April-June quarter of 2003, is the only candidate who has exceeded the total.

The $32.5 million Obama reported was a substantial increase from the $25.7 million he raised during the first quarter. Clinton’s estimate of approximately $27 million indicated slower growth from the $26 million she reported during the earlier quarter.

Former Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina, meanwhile, reported raising at least $9 million, down from $14 million in the first quarter.

Aides to Edwards downplayed his failure to raise as much as he did in the first quarter, as well as the growing money gap with Clinton and Obama.

“This isn’t a money race,” said Joe Trippi, a senior Edwards adviser and a former top strategist for 2004 presidential hopeful Howard Dean. “It’s a race to win the nomination, and that’s what we intend to do.”

The strategic implications of the fundraising performance were apparent in comments each campaign made following their release.

Obama’s campaign said the latest fundraising total shows it will have the resources to compete not only in the early states of Iowa, Nevada, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Florida, but also in a group of more than 20 states expected to hold primaries on Feb. 5.

“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 Feb. 5 contests, including large states like California, New Jersey, New York, Georgia and Missouri,” campaign manager David Plouffe wrote on the campaign’s Web site.

Edwards’ deputy campaign manager, Jonathan Prince, said the campaign would concentrate its resources in the earlier states. “The nomination is going to be won or lost in those early states,” he said.

New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson closed in on Edwards’ fundraising, reporting on Friday that he had received at least $7 million in contributions during the quarter.

The fundraising totals suggest that Obama probably has more money available for use in his presidential primary campaign than Clinton, despite a $10 million advantage she began with in leftover funds transferred from her 2006 New York Senate campaign.

Federal campaign finance rules limit contributors to a $2,300 contribution to a candidate’s primary campaign. But big-dollar donors also can contribute up to an additional $2,300 for use only during the general election campaign; by law, the money must be kept separate and cannot be used for the nomination contest.

Clinton’s campaign has relied more on big-dollar donors. During the last quarter, less than three-quarters of her total was available for the primary.

At the March 31 close of the last quarter, the Clinton campaign showed $24 million in cash on hand for the primaries versus Obama’s $18.2 million.

Michael Toner, a former chairman of the Federal Election Commission and currently an adviser to Republican Fred Thompson’s presidential exploratory committee, said the financial advantage probably will now shift, depending on how much each campaign has spent.

“Sen. Obama in all likelihood is going to have more cash on hand for the primaries than Sen. Clinton and possibly considerably more cash on hand,” Toner said. “Very few people would have predicted that six months ago.”

None of the major candidates released figures on their spending. But each will have to disclose detailed information on expenditures as well as contributions when campaign finance reports are due on July 15.

Sen. Christopher Dodd, D-Conn., meanwhile, reported raising $3.25 million this quarter. Aides said he had $6.5 million cash on hand, bolstered by $4.7 million that he transferred in from his Senate campaign account earlier this year.

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