Who Has the Cash in the Early Presidential Bids?
MADELEINE BRAND, host:
From NPR News, this is DAY TO DAY.
If Barack Obama runs for president, he'll get a quick course in big time political competition, especially, as John Dickerson noted, from Hillary Clinton. Number one lesson: raise lots and lots of money.
NPR's senior Washington editor Ron Elving is here. And Ron, we are two years away from the presidential elections. So how important is money at this point in the race?
RON ELVING: Money is always important, Madeleine. Mother's milk of politics, as they say. Especially at the beginning, because you need money to raise money. But Barack Obama is a special case. He does not need to buy media right now, or anytime soon, because at this moment the media are falling all over themselves for the chance to sell him to the public. He is the fresh element. He's driving the story of 2008 right now.
BRAND: But as John noted a few moments ago, Hillary Clinton is still at the top of the polls and has a lot more money than anyone else.
ELVING: She's still getting roughly a third of the preference votes. Others are down in the low teens for now, and financially she's in the lead because she had a lot of money for a Senate fund. But she's spent that down in her Senate race a little more than people expected, keeping her margin of victory high. And her real edge, I would say, is that over the last 15 years, she and Bill and Al Gore have built up the most formidable money-raising connections in the Democratic Party. It's New York. It's also California, Florida, Chicago. And if she needs to raise $100 million, she can do it.
BRAND: Wow. So is that sewn up? Is that the end of the story, insurmountable, she's got that money?
ELVING: Not by itself. In fact, the leading money candidate does not always win the nomination; think Phil Graham, John Connelly. But if the money lead attaches to a candidate with other compelling claims on the nomination, it's truly formidable. And we've always assumed that HRC, as we call her, would have these other assets. And she may have them. But you know, she's raised questions of electability, partly because she is not the candidate of the anti-war Democrats, and Obama can hurt her on that issue.
BRAND: Well, what about the Web and the ability to raise small-time donations there? Could Obama be competitive there?
ELVING: Barack Obama will certainly go that route, and he could be the Howard Dean of 2008. You remember four years ago how Howard Dean used the Internet to raise enormous amounts of money, and as for bundlers, the people who put together contributions from other people, they're going to come out of the woodwork for him, I think, when they see some of that money coming in. And he's also got it the super-deep pocket people like George Soros in the wings, because Soros, while he can't simply fund a candidate, has been a Barack Obama fan for years, and billionaires can find ways to be helpful.
BRAND: Hmm. Let's turn to the Republicans on that note. Who's raising money there?
ELVING: John McCain of Arizona, of course, and also Governor Mitt Romney of Massachusetts. Rudy Giuliani runs well in the polls. He's right up there with McCain in some and he has access to New York money, like Wall Street and so on. But he has yet to build the kind of organization he would need, and frankly, I don't think he has the kind of positions on social issues he would need to be nominated, so a lot of people questioned how serious Giuliani really is at this point.
BRAND: Now, everyone knows McCain. He ran before, so he presumably has a sophisticated fundraising network already in place. But Mitt Romney?
ELVING: Well, McCain is not only the frontrunner in the polls, but also in money because he has tapped into a lot of the Bush fundraising organization, which is the gold standard in the Republican Party. Romney is an interesting challenger. He's got Massachusetts. He's got some New York connections in business. And he's got his Utah connection, which gives him matchless access to vast sums of Mormon money, if he's willing to tap it, but he may not really want to be seen too much as the Mormon candidate.
BRAND: Okay, NPR senior Washington editor Ron Elving. Thanks as always.
ELVING: Thank you, Madeleine.