- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 5, 2007

Sen. Barack Obama’s campaign raised $25 million in the two-and-a-half months after announcing his exploratory committee with contributions from nearly 100,000 donors — sending a clear message that Mr. Obama’s campaign is a powerful force in the race for the Democratic presidential nomination.

The large base of donors — more than half coming by way of the Internet and nearly double that of the Democratic front-runner, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York — signals that she will have to fight every step of the way in her quest to become the first female president.

Mr. Obama said the first-quarter 2007 fundraising achievement was a message to Washington.

“It’s been a truly historic response — a measure of just how hungry people are to turn the page on this era of small and destructive politics and repair our American community,” the Illinois Democrat wrote in an e-mail letter to supporters. “You’ve sent an unmistakable message to the political establishment in Washington about the power and seriousness of our challenge.”

The campaign received $23.5 million toward the primary campaign and close to $2 million that can be used in the general election. Some $516,500 was transferred from his Senate campaign.

Mr. Obama may actually have outraised Mrs. Clinton in terms of money that can be spent in the nomination race. ABC News reported last night, citing anonymous sources, that of the $26 million Mrs. Clinton raised, only about $20 million is for use in the primaries and caucuses. The Clinton campaign has not released official estimates on that breakdown since it released its overall figure Sunday.

Although the Obama campaign raised $6.9 million from more than 50,000 Internet-based donations, much of the campaign’s total came from big-money donors. Hollywood producers David Geffen and Steven Spielberg held a fundraiser for Mr. Obama in February that made headlines when Mr. Geffen disparaged Mrs. Clinton in a blog interview.

But Mr. Obama also received donations from wealthy Chicago donors including the billionaire Pritzker family, founders of the Hyatt hotel chain and the Marmon Group investment firm. Penny Pritzker is the campaign’s finance chairwoman.

“This overwhelming response, in only a few short weeks, shows the hunger for a different kind of politics in this country and a belief at the grass-roots level that Barack Obama can bring out the best in America to solve our problems,” Mrs. Pritzker said.

Serious money — at least $10 million in the campaign’s first-quarter report to the Federal Election Commission — is what most pundits said Mr. Obama needed to be considered competitive by the political community. Having far surpassed that, Mr. Obama will now need to spend the next four months working to match Mrs. Clinton in name recognition and in the opinion polls.

While campaigning last night in Iowa, Mr. Obama told reporters that he was “particularly proud that we were able to do this without any money from federal lobbyists or [political action committees].”

He also cautioned against assuming that the fundraising figures set up a two-way race between him and the former first lady. “It’s way too early,” he said.

The Latino Policy Coalition on Tuesday released a poll of 1,000 registered Hispanics likely to vote in the 23 states with the highest Hispanic population density. It showed Mrs. Clinton leading all candidates with 60 percent support, followed by Mr. Obama with 12 percent. The poll had a margin of error of three percentage points.

“These numbers speak to the Latino community’s familiarity with Senator Clinton and a lack of familiarity with the rest of the field,” said Jim Gonzalez, chairman of the Latino Policy Coalition.

New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, a Democrat and the first Hispanic to run for president, scored only 9 percent in the poll. Former Sen. John Edwards, North Carolina Democrat, received 7 percent, and Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr., Delaware Democrat, received 1 percent.

“The candidates still have time to introduce themselves to Latino voters, but the clock is ticking. With such a significant bloc of votes at stake, each of the candidates needs to step up their outreach efforts,” Mr. Gonzalez said.

After establishing his ability as a fundraiser, Mr. Obama should now be able to marshal a cadre of prominent elected officials to act as surrogates for his campaign and help get his name out to their constituents.

The campaign recently got the support of the Rev. Jesse Jackson, someone who can mobilize black voters in large numbers. Mr. Jackson also has a massive organization in the Rainbow/PUSH Coalition, dedicated to registering young voters — a group that has become the backbone of the Obama campaign.

“There are a lot of people who would not be out here working in the race and listening if not for Mr. Obama, and I think you have to go ahead and admit that,” said House Majority Whip James E. Clyburn, South Carolina Democrat.

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