Friday, April 13, 2007

Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton edged out her top rivals in the first-quarter race for campaign cash, but Sen. Barack Obama drew twice as many donors to compete in next year’s presidential primaries, Democratic strategists said yesterday.

Most, if not all, of the news stories portrayed the New York senator as the undisputed winner in the first three months of campaign fundraising, garnering $26 million from 50,000 contributors.

But Democratic campaign veterans said Mr. Obama of Illinois was the likely long-term winner because his $25 million came mostly from small donors via the Internet who were expected to make multiple contributions over the course of the year. That could easily put his donation in excess of $100 million.

“The bulk of Hillary’s money came from relatively wealthy contributors who gave the maximum contribution of $2,300, the most you can give to one candidate. Of Obama’s 100,000 donors, about 90,000 gave him less than $100, which means technically you can go back to those people 22 more times,” said Joseph Trippi who managed Howard Dean’s 2004 presidential bid.

Mr. Dean set a fundraising record in the 2003 pre-primary campaign.

“Hillary’s dependency on the maxed-out donor worked well for her, but you have to question whether they can sustain the $26 million she raised in the first three months. That’s more than likely to decline in the second quarter, while Obama’s contributions are likely to grow,” Mr. Trippi said.

“She has to do significantly better in the low donor base or she is going to have less money.”

Other Democrats and campaign finance analysts yesterday agreed with that assessment and said that political reporters overplayed Mrs. Clinton’s higher fundraising total, while missing the larger significance of Mr. Obama’s much stronger appeal among small, often repeat, donors.

“Those contributors who gave the maximum to Clinton that are allowed to give to a candidate in one year, they are through with Hillary. She has to find new contributors or new small donor supporters,” said Jan Baran, a campaign-finance lawyer.

“Those small donors [to Obama] will contribute at least two or three more times and often more than they contributed the first time around. So do the math,” said James Bonham, former executive director of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.

“That makes Obama one of the leading contenders because with the big state primaries moving forward to February 5, cash is going to be king that the top candidates will need in order to compete in so many states at one time.”

While former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards, with $14 million, raised less in the first quarter than his two other rivals, Democrats said he, too, will benefit more in the long term from his list of 40,000 donors.

“Edwards’ financing is structured more like Obama, with a healthier mix of big donors and smaller online donors,” Mr. Trippi said.

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