The Democratic presidential candidates have erased and reversed Republicans' historic edge in raising money for campaigns, reflecting growing enthusiasm among Democrats and adding to the GOP's already considerable burdens going into 2008.
Two Democratic candidates -- Illinois Sen. Barack Obama and New York Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton -- shattered previous quarterly fundraising records in the three-month period that ended Saturday. Obama raised $31 million for his primary campaign, while Clinton raised $21 million; both figures broke the previous record for a Democrat's best fundraising quarter this early in an election cycle.
Meanwhile, underscoring the financial woes the Republicans face, Arizona Sen. John McCain bowed to the financial pressures facing his campaign Monday by announcing staff layoffs and pay cuts for top campaign officials.
McCain's campaign raised just $11.2 million last quarter -- less than the disappointing $13.1 million he raised in the first quarter -- a development that threatens his status as a front-runner, if not his entire candidacy. The campaign said it has only $2 million on hand -- less than the $5 million it had in the bank at the end of the first quarter.
"We need to downsize our operations," said Terry Nelson, McCain's campaign manager. "We confronted reality, and we dealt with it in the best way that we could so that we could move forward."
"We face a difficult fundraising environment right now, and certainly difficult in comparison to what our Democratic counterparts are able to raise," Nelson added. "And I think that will go for the entire field of candidates when our numbers are compared to their numbers."
The other Republican presidential candidates have not yet released their fundraising totals for the second quarter. But early indications are that no GOP candidate will approach the stratospheric figures achieved by Obama and Clinton, who have now banked more than $100 million between them for primary contests that are still more than six months away.
"Over four years, we've caught up to 40 years of being behind," said Jenny Backus, a Democratic consultant who is not affiliated with any of the presidential campaigns. "The gap is completely gone. It's an assumption we made forever that just isn't true."
Obama's eye-popping total -- raised by tapping 138,000 individual donors for an average of barely $200 each -- is particularly extraordinary given that he is running consistently second in national polls. He can go back to small-dollar donors over and over again before the primaries; individuals can give up to $2,300 to any candidate for the primaries, and another $2,300 for the general election.
Obama's haul suggests a grass-roots enthusiasm among party activists that hasn't translated into support in national polls when matched against Clinton, who is far better known to the public.
"This is an incredible total for a candidate who is actually losing in the polls by 15 or 20 percent," said Larry Sabato, director of the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia. "It's unprecedented for a candidate who is not leading in the polls to do so much better than the nominal front-runner."
At least since the Watergate era, Republicans have been able to count on a significant financial edge over Democrats. As recently as 2000, Republican nominee George W. Bush raised nearly twice as much for his primary battles as did Democratic nominee Al Gore.