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Question of the Day
As presidential candidates from both major political parties jostle to improve their polling positions, Round 2 in the crucial money primary will be approaching its zenith throughout this weekend. When the second quarter ends today, the financial spinning will enter high gear. In the next few days, in advance of their official filings with the Federal Election Commission (FEC) in mid-July, candidates will begin revealing how much money they raised during the April-June period.
Will second-quarter contributions collected by Barack Obama exceed the April-June contributions to Hillary Clinton, who raised $52 million running for re-election in New York last year against a sacrificial lamb? In the presidential race, the $26 million that Mrs. Clinton collected in the first quarter barely surpassed Mr. Obama’s $25.7 million. Nevertheless, it was he who won a huge psychological victory by coyly delaying the announcement of his expectations-smashing total for several days after Team Hillary took a victory lap, which, in the crucial expectations game, proved to be premature.
The Clinton campaign took steps to reduce expectations for the second quarter by announcing Thursday that its April-June take will be about $27 million and probably fall below the total for Mr. Obama, who will celebrate his 30-month anniversary in the Senate this weekend. Thus, the question is: If Mrs. Clinton’s strategy is to project an aura of inevitability, when will her fund-raising begin to match its potential? Remember, Team Hillary employs the Democratic Party’s two unrivaled moneymen — former Democratic National Committee Chairman Terry McAuliffe, who raked in more hard money during the 2003-04 cycle ($394.4 million) than the Republican National Committee ($392.4 million); and former White House Deputy Chief of Staff Harold Ickes, who oversaw the financing of Bill Clinton’s 1996 re-election and was the Democratic soft-money maestro in 2004, when liberal 527 cash vastly exceeded conservative 527 dough.
Even before the Clinton campaign’s premature first-quarter victory dance ended, we expressed how underwhelmed we were at her $26 million total. Yes, the $25.8 million she received from individuals was nearly 250 percent higher than the $7.5 million that John Kerry and John Edwards each raised during the first quarter of 2003 and 200 percent higher than the $8.8 million Al Gore collected during the first quarter of 1999. But comparing 2007 with 2003 and 1999 is apples and oranges. Because the Clinton campaign has announced that she would not accept federal funding for next year’s general election, her individual contributors can max out at $4,600. (Another fact worth noting: Because Mrs. Clinton raised about $7 million in the first quarter that can only be spent in a general election campaign, Mr. Obama actually raised nearly $6 million more than Mrs. Clinton in money that can be spent during the primaries.) Today’s $4,600 maximum compares to the $1,000 maximum Mr. Gore could raise in 1999-2000 and the $2,000 maximum that applied to Messrs. Kerry and Edwards in 2003-2004. Also, during the second quarter of 1999, when the limit was $1,000, then-Gov. George W. Bush raised $28.8 million from individuals. Regarding “inevitability,” recall that Mr. Kerry, who effectively became the inevitable Democratic nominee after winning Iowa and New Hampshire in January 2004, raised $186 million from individuals (in maximum increments of $2,000) during the February-July period.
If the 2008 Democratic nomination were truly Mrs. Clinton’s to lose (as the 2000 Republican nomination was Mr. Bush’s to lose at this same stage), her fund-raising advantages over newcomer Obama should match her lead in the polls. But they don’t. Nationally, her average lead over Mr. Obama is 14.2 points (37.0-22.8), according to six recent polls aggregated by RealClearPolitics. And her statewide leads over Mr. Obama in early primary contests are: 14.8 points (34.3-19.5) for the Jan. 22 New Hampshire primary; 2.8 points (28.8-26.0) for the Jan. 29 primary in South Carolina, where 50 percent of the voters are black; and 16 points (37.8-21.8) for the Jan. 29 Florida primary. In two key Feb. 5 primary states, RealClearPolitics reports that Mrs. Clinton leads Mr. Obama by 18 points (39.0-21.0) in New Jersey and, according to three June polls, by 17.7 points (40.0-22.3) in California.
While Mr. Edwards, who raised $14 million in the first quarter, currently holds a 1.2 percentage-point lead (25.5-24.3) over Mrs. Clinton in Iowa (where he hasn’t stopped campaigning since early 2003), RealClearPolitics President John McIntyre reported Thursday that Mr. Edwards‘ “crumbling campaign” has lost 30 percent of its national support since mid-April, and recent polls by The Washington Post and Los Angeles Times have Mr. Edwards in single digits at 8 percent. We’ll soon know whether his drop in the polls will be reflected by a drop in his coffers.
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