Thursday, April 05, 2007

Obama matches Clinton’s campaign coffers

Obama matches Clinton’s campaign coffers
By Edward Luce in Washington
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2007
Published: April 4 2007 18:35 | Last updated: April 4 2007 18:35

Barack Obama, the freshman senator from Illinois, on Wednesday underlined his strong position in the Democratic presidential race when he announced that he had virtually matched Hillary Clinton’s $26m fund-raising record in the last 10 weeks.

Mr Obama, 45, who only came to national attention in 2004 when he gave a widely lauded speech at the Democratic national convention, also announced that 100,000 people had donated to his campaign – almost twice the number of people donating to Mrs Clinton.

On Sunday Mrs Clinton said she had raised $26m (€19.45m, £13m) in the first quarter of 2007 – roughly three times the record of the previous highest level for the same period in the year before a presidential election. On Wednesday Mr Obama, whose fundraising operation, in contrast to Mrs Clinton’s famed national donor network, started virtually from scratch, said he had netted $25m.

“It has 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,” he said on Wednesday. “You have sent an unmistakable message to the political establishment about the power and seriousness of our challenge.”

Democratic activists said they were astonished by Mr Obama’s ability to match Mrs Clinton, whose campaign strategy has been based on building an unstoppable lead as early into this unusually intense presidential race as possible. There are still nine months to go before the party primaries begin in New Hampshire next January.

Mr Obama, who has drawn large crowds wherever he has spoken, including a turnout of 25,000 at a rally in Texas in February, has also started to narrow Mrs Clinton’s lead in the opinion polls. In January Mrs Clinton had a 15- to 20-point advantage over Mr Obama, according to most polls. That has now narrowed to between 8 and 12 points. John Edwards, the former vice-presidential candidate, who raised $14m in the first quarter, is in third place.

Mr Obama has also built a decisive lead in the new politics of “social networking”, where volunteers register their support through the candidate’s website or on independent sites such as Facebook and MySpace. Mr Obama has accumulated several hundred thousand supporters via this route – several times the number of Mrs Clinton.

“American politics is entering completely new territory where technology is allowing millions of people to participate directly and in real time,” said Simon Rosenberg of the New Democratic Network, a centrist group in Washington. “The level of intensity for Obama’s campaign, whether you measure it by the number of donors, how much money he has raised or the number of hits he gets on YouTube, is phenomenal. This race is wide open.”

However, Mrs Clinton still possesses formidable advantages that could start to show as the campaign continues, say Democratic consultants. These include her husband, Bill Clinton, who is widely seen as the best political mind of his generation, and her own extensive experience as a senator and First Lady.

Many believe that Mr Obama will struggle to demonstrate he has the necessary experience and knowledge to convert the grassroots passion behind his campaign into a coherent policy platform to govern America. “Hillary Clinton isn’t just going to roll over – she’s not Walter Mondale or Michael Dukakis, she’s in this to win and she will play tough,” said one consultant.

Meanwhile, donors say Mrs Clinton’s fund-raising schedule for the next quarter is even more intense than the last. Patti Solis Doyle, Mrs Clinton’s campaign manager, yesterday said: “We are thrilled with our historic fundraising success and congratulate Senator Obama and the entire Democratic field on their fundraising, which demonstrates the overwhelming desire for change in our country.”


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