Funds Nearly Even for Obama and Clinton

Melissa Block talks with NPR's Mara Liasson about what Sen. Barak Obama's announcement that he has generated almost as much first-quarter campaign funds as his rival Hillary Clinton is a new wrinkle in the race for the Democratic presidential nomination.

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MICHELE NORRIS, host:

And as promised, NPR's national political correspondent Mara Liasson is with us. Hello, Mara.

MARA LIASSON: Hello, Michele.

MARA LIASSON: Let's dig into these numbers and figure out what they reveal about the candidates and their campaigns. What does this mean? What does it mean beyond the dollar signs?

LIASSON: Well, as we talk about it yesterday, it is possible to raise a lot of money but not have it translate into votes. But I think in this case it means that Obama is not just a phenomenon. He's not just a flavor of the month. He has the resources to mount a very serious challenge to Senator Clinton. Now, it may not be the game changer that some of the Obama folks have been saying it was today, but this makes it harder for Senator Clinton to position herself as the inevitable nominee. She wanted to kind clear the field and have her $26 million be so formidable that the other people would be dwarfed by comparison; that clearly hasn't happen.

NORRIS: Now, raising of this much money this early in the race, what does this mean for growth over time?

LIASSON: Well, in terms of Barack Obama, he's got a lot of growth because he has 100,000 donors; 23.5 of the 25 million he raised is for the primary. That means he still can raise money for the general; 90 percent of his donations were in increments of $100 or less. And that is extremely significant. That means that these people are very far from being maxed out. Maxed out means you've given the $4,600 for the primary and general election combined that the law allows you to. He can go back to these people again and again and again, until, if they have the means, they get up to $4,600. So the size of the pool is important. The number of small donors who can be tapped again is important.

We don't have numbers yet for Senator Clinton in terms of how many she's gotten for the general election versus the primary. Her campaign says they're going to have that soon. But the Obama supporters are saying while the Clinton money network is very big and very formidable, it's older, more established, closer to being max out. And they say Obama has brought more new people into the process. He has built himself this network very fast. He clearly tapped pools of black professionals. He beat her on the Internet. What we don't know yet is how many of the Obama donors have never given political money before.

NORRIS: So, Mara, how does the Clinton campaign react to this, beyond an official statement?

LIASSON: Well, they say they aren't shocked and they predicted this. And they say that she is still going to be the nominee and they are trying to say that Obama is going to be the new version of Howard Dean, who brought a lot of new people into the process, raised a lot of money on the Internet and then, of course, didn't win a single primary. That's what they're saying. Clearly this, I think, rattles their campaign a bit.

NORRIS: But if you look at this in terms of a Donnybrook(ph) and what the numbers mean in terms of positioning and momentum, how is this read? I mean we were talking yesterday about what this meant McCain in terms of his numbers. What does this mean for the Clinton campaign today?

LIASSON: Look, the Clinton - Senator Clinton is still winning the money race. It's nothing like - McCain had a poor showing. She broke records. She's still the winner of the money primary. As Peter pointed out, she's still has that extra $10 million left over from her Senate campaign. Also, you know, speaking of the comparison with McCain, what Senator Clinton has done is, she has adopted the Bush model very successfully. He would designate people as rangers or pioneers if they bundled $100,000 or $200,000. She has designated a group of people called hell-raisers who are going to raise her $1 million each. McCain brought in a lot of the Bush fundraisers but he's still fine-tuning the Bush system.

So I think Senator Clinton still has an extremely formidable organization, tremendous assets, big fundraising network, and a tremendous fundraiser in Bill Clinton, who's been pulling out all the stops for her. The big question is how maxed out is her pool.

NORRIS: Interesting time here. They all have the same deadline but they're all announcing on different days.

LIASSON: Well, Barack Obama wanted a day all to himself where he could get the biggest headline possible. He wanted to wait till the dust had settled from her big announcement before he announced his. And I think you can see from the kind of coverage he's getting today, he did a good job.

NORRIS: Thank you, Mara.

LIASSON: Thank you, Michele.

NORRIS: That was Mara Liasson, NPR's national political correspondent.

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