Fundraising Recasts the Presidential Race

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The release of fundraising reports by presidential candidates in both parties made for a busy week in politics. Mitt Romney led the Republican pack, while Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton pipped Sen. Barack Obama for Democratic bragging rights.


Joining us now is Mara Liasson, NPR's national political correspondent. Good morning.

MARA LIASSON: Good morning, Renee.

MONTAGNE: For all the attention being paid to Senator Obama, $25 million is not a record. I'm going to pause to let that sink in. It was, in fact, I think as everyone knows, Senator Hillary Clinton who had the best showing.

LIASSON: That's right. Mrs. Clinton's - Senator Clinton raised $26 million, just one million more than Barack Obama. However, she also has the $10 million left over from her 2006 Senate reelection campaign. So that makes her still well ahead of Obama and the number three candidate, John Edwards, in the fundraising race. But there are still are some vulnerable points for Senator Clinton.

Barack Obama has twice as many individual donors as she does. She has 50,000. He has 100,000. That is a great sign of growth potential for Obama. Ninety percent of his donations are in increments of $100 or less. That means he has fewer maxed out donors. You can only give $4,600 total to the primary and general election accounts of a candidate. And while her list is very big, very formidable, and she's got Bill Clinton raising money for her, pulling out all the stops for her, she has an older network of donors.

And the Obama people, on the other hand, say that he's able to go back to these donors again and again and again before they are maxed out. So I think what the stunning Obama numbers did this week is really shake up the Democratic field. Senator Clinton is no longer the inevitable nominee, which she had been hoping to position herself as.

MONTAGNE: At this point in time. What about other Democratic candidates? How did this week end for John Edwards, for instance?

LIASSON: Well, John Edwards raised $14 million, and at one point that would have broken records. But we're on our way to a billion dollar campaign. The game has really changed. I don't think you can count Edwards out. He spent a tremendous amount of time in Iowa since he was on the ticket four years ago, but he is now trailing in the money primary.

MONTAGNE: And on the Republican side, Mara, the surprise winner of the funding race was Mitt Romney, who raised more than $20 million dollars.

LIASSON: Yes, Mitt Romney won the money primary on the Republican side. He did very well. He hasn't yet been able to translate that stunning fundraising success into poll numbers. He's still stuck in single digits, but the money makes him very viable. That's what money is. It's a test of viability. And what we have now is two extremely viable candidates on the Democratic side and three on the Republican side.

MONTAGNE: And given that one of those three, Rudy Giuliani, is said to have raised $10 million last month alone, does that make him the hottest candidate going at the moment in the Republican field?

LIASSON: Well, he has been the frontrunner in the polls. And he has been the hottest candidate, but he slipped recently in the polls even though he raised $15 million for the quarter, and that's very impressive. But Republican voters are learning a little bit more about Rudy Giuliani. He's getting more scrutiny. They are learning more about him than just that he was the hero mayor of 9/11. And yesterday in South Carolina, Giuliani was defending his position in favor of public funding for abortions. And that stand could really cause him some problems with the pro-life base of the Republican Party.

MONTAGNE: What about John McCain? Not that long ago, he was the frontrunner.

LIASSON: That's right. I think in some ways the biggest news on the Republican side this week was the poor showing of John McCain. He only raised $12 million. He came in third in the money race. That's just another difficulty for McCain. He says he's going to shake up his fundraising apparatus. He has inherited a lot of the Bush fundraisers. And he's hired a lot of those people without really putting in place the Bush system of rewarding people who bundle lots of money for him.

Ironically, Senator Clinton has adopted the Bush fundraising model more effectively. She has called some people Hill-raisers who have promised to raise her a million dollars each. But John McCain is going to make changes in his campaign. He's giving three big speeches soon. One on Iraq next Wednesday, and he's going to have an announcement tour. I know you think he probably already announced for president, but he's going to announce again and go on a big tour through Iowa and New Hampshire.

MONTAGNE: Thanks very much, Mara.

LIASSON: Thank you, Renee.

MONTAGNE: NPR's Mara Liasson. You're listening to MORNING EDITION from NPR News.

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