WASHINGTON - Sen. Barack Obama’s bombshell announcement Wednesday that his presidential campaign already has raised $25 million grabbed the political world’s attention and threatened Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton’s hope of locking up the Democratic nomination early.
The first-quarter showing for the first-term senator from Illinois came closer than expected to Clinton’s announcement Sunday that she’d raised a record $26 million over the same period.
Strategists said Obama’s total established him as a serious threat to Clinton and signaled the challenges that former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards and several other Democrats with less money face as they compete for the 2008 presidential nomination.
“With the amount of money and donors they each have, there’s not much oxygen left for anyone but the front-runners,” said John Lapp, a Democratic strategist who isn’t connected with the Obama or Clinton campaigns.
Obama’s campaign also reported that his money came from more than 100,000 donors, twice the number that Clinton reported for the first quarter. That suggests that Obama may be building a broader network of supporters than Clinton is, but details about their donors won’t be clear until the campaigns’ full reports are released in coming weeks. The reports must be submitted to the Federal Election Commission by April 15.
Half of Obama’s donors gave relatively small amounts via the Internet; $6.9 million collectively, or an average of $138 each. An Obama spokeswoman declined to elaborate on the other 50,000 donors, who gave most of the money. Obama has ruled out accepting contributions from political action committees and lobbyists.
Donor contributions are limited by law to $2,300 each for the primary season and the general election.
While Clinton’s team hasn’t said how much of her total is reserved for the general election, Obama’s campaign said all but $1.5 million of the $25 million could go to the primary election.
Edwards is running third in the Democrats’ “money primary”; he reported raising $14 million in the year’s first quarter.
Among Republicans, Mitt Romney, a former Massachusetts governor, led the first-quarter money chase with $21 million. Rudy Giuliani, a former New York mayor, took in $15 million and Arizona Sen. John McCain’s team has acknowledged disappointment at having raised $12.5 million.
Obama’s finance chairwoman, Penny Pritzker, said Wednesday that the money the campaign had raised so far represented an “overwhelming” response that reflected Obama’s support among grass-roots activists and “shows the hunger for a different kind of politics in this country.”
Clinton campaign manager Patti Solis Doyle downplayed the development, saying the Clinton campaign is “thrilled” with its own success and congratulates Obama “and the entire Democratic field” on fundraising results.
Obama’s announcement came as he campaigned in Iowa, where Steffen Schmidt, a professor of political science at Iowa State University, suggested that “Hillary Clinton’s campaign is freaked out” by the news.
“They were going to suck everything dry and there wasn’t going to be any oxygen left. They’re going, `What’s happening? Why are all these Democrats abandoning the Clinton juggernaut?’
“Hillary Clinton has been a household word for eight years in the White House and six years in the Senate, and Barack Obama came from essentially sort of nowhere, like a falling star,” Schmidt said. “It is very dangerous for Hillary Clinton because . . . there are lots of people in the Democratic Party saying Hillary Clinton is not electable, is divisive, that you don’t know who the real Hillary Clinton is.”
Schmidt said that although Edwards hadn’t raised as much as Obama or Clinton, the recent attention given the former senator in light of his wife’s cancer recurrence and the couple’s decision to run anyhow could capture voters’ attention and give him a boost.
“It’s not too late for anybody,” Schmidt said. “Money isn’t everything in politics.”
(McClatchy Newspapers correspondent Matt Stearns contributed to this report.)