Democratic Rivals Play '08 Money Game

Clinton and Obama camps lower expectations for their own Q3 haul.


Sept. 25, 2007 — -- It's the silly season of political fundraising where some of the '08 campaigns are attempting to set the bar extraordinarily high for their opponents before the campaigns disclose how much money they have truly raised in the third quarter.

In the last week before the third quarter fundraising draws to a close, the presidential campaign of Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., is busy lowering expectations for their fundraising haul -- and raising expectations for those of her chief Democratic rival -- Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill.

As the days of the fundraising quarter wind down, the spin machines at the campaigns are winding up.

An aide to Clinton's campaign tells ABC News that they expect to have raised between $17 and $20 million in the third quarter fundraising period between July 1 and Sept. 30, and suggested the campaign of Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., will raise over $30 million, thanks in large part to online donations -- -- even though they have no direct knowledge of what Obama will raise.

Blaming a vacationing donor base during the summer months of July and August, and suggesting previous donors have "maxed out" their contributions to the New York senator in the first two fundraising quarters, the Clinton campaign predicted Obama's campaign will beat them by over $10 million, perhaps setting the bar high for their rival.

"They have an advantage," the Clinton aide said about Obama's campaign. "For us, the summer is slow, because we've maxed out far more of our donors than they have."

Not to be outdone in the spin wars, a high-ranking Obama aide tells ABC News that they're likely to land in the $17-$19 million range -- and that they expect Clinton to hit $35 million for the quarter.

The White House wannabes must submit their third quarter fundraising totals, from July 1 to September 30, to the Federal Election Commission by October 15. The candidates' fundraising prowess is widely seen as a gauge of their electability.

Raising cash in the third fundraising quarter is typically more difficult, because many affluent Americans are more interested in getting away to the beach than making contributions to political candidates — and many donors have already given in the first or second quarter.

FEC rules dictate a donor may give up to $2,300 to any candidate for the primary, and up to $2,300 for the general election — something that political strategists say many donors have already done.

The two leading Democratic frontrunners have been battling for fundraising dollars since the campaign began.

Even though Clinton had more cash on hand than Obama in the first quarter, he outraised her in both the first and second quarters.

Obama has also managed to get more people to donate smaller amounts to his campaign -- allowing him to go back to those supporters again and again for more money.

On Monday the Obama campaign sent an email to supporters saying they have received over 472,000 individual donations from over 333,000 different people over the course of the campaign -- and asked supporters to reach into their wallet one more time.

"For the past few days, previous donors have been volunteering to give again in order to match first-time donations ... you can double your impact if you give right now," read an Obama campaign email sent to supporters Monday.

Anita Dunn, a Democratic pollster who has worked with Obama in the past, said the Illinois senator has tapped into a vast online resource that is fueling his ability to compete with Clinton.

"He has demonstrated a capacity to raise money from donors who aren't traditional Democratic party donors. That is extraordinary," Dunn said. "He appeals to younger voters who are much more comfortable giving money online."

However it isn't clear whether Obama's fundraising prowess will translate into votes in the Democratic primary and caucus contests in January in the early voting states of Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina -- especially when it comes to younger voters, who are traditionally unreliable when it comes to turning out at the polls..

In the last fundraising quarter, Obama spent more than Clinton and as the early Democratic contests near, the candidates will spend even more money on advertising and campaigning.

"At some point you have to stop spending time with donors and start focusing on voters," said Massie Ritsch of the Center for Responsive Politics, a non-partisan organization that tracks candidates' fundraising and spending.

"The intense spending starts right now so you need to have a full bank account to do it," Ritsch said.

In a last push before the Sept. 30th reporting deadline, Clinton is holding fundraisers this week in New York and California.

"This is traditionally a tough quarter, but we're pleased with our level of support," Clinton spokesperson Blake Zeff said about the campaign's expected third quarter fundraising totals.

The Clinton campaign also recently gave a large chunk of money back to one generous political fundraiser, Norman Hsu, after the one-time fugitive was charged with fraud, and illegally making campaign contributions in the names of others.

"Losing $850,000 is a lot of money," admitted one Clinton campaign staffer, who suggested other candidates have had similar problems with donors.

On Monday, Obama took his fundraising pitch to Broadway for a theatre fundraiser that cost $250 to $2,300 per ticket.

Earlier this month, Obama got some financial help from talk show queen Oprah Winfrey, who hosted a star-studded fundraiser at her California estate for Obama, which raised a reported $3 million.

After contributions over the next week are included, the Obama campaign says it hopes to have a total of 500,000 donations from 350,000 donors at the quarter's end.

Republican strategists say the third quarter will be particularly important for the GOP candidates, who have thus far been out-fundraised by their Democratic counterparts.

Of particular interest will be how former Sen. Fred Thompson, R-Tenn., — the newest GOP candidate — will fare.

"It looks like Rudy Giuliani's going to lead this quarter, Mitt Romney's going to have to write another check to himself, John McCain is not going to break out like he was hoping he would, and Fred Thompson is going to be challenged, because he doesn't have a finance structure in place yet," predicted Scott Reed, a GOP consultant, who ran Bob Dole's 1996 presidential campaign.

Making what has become a frequent fundraising run through his homestate of Tennessee, Thompson is raising money in five Tennessee cities in two days this week.

The Democratic Party of Tennessee has accused Thompson of using his homestate as "his personal ATM." Thompson also spent three days last week fundraising in Texas.

Reed said Thompson's fundraising push shows he lacks a national financial structure.

"If you look at what he's doing in fundraisers this week, he's doing Tennessee," Reed said. "That isn't exactly a knock'em, rock'em, sock'em roll out of fundraising. You'd think he'd be doing New York, Chicago, Miami, L.A., Dallas."

Another campaign to watch is Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., who has battled severe campaign financial woes and staffing shakeups.

In the second quarter, McCain's campaign raised about $11.6 million, but spent almost $13.1 million.

However, those close to his campaign argue that things are turning around.

"We're in the black," said Republican strategist Charlie Black, a chief advisor to McCain's campaign. "In each of the months of this quarter, we've taken in more money than we've spent."

"The important thing is not so much our fundraising, but our budget," McCain told reporters in Concord, N.H. on Sept. 4. "Thank God, we have reduced our budget dramatically, and that's the important thing, the expenditures."

However Republican strategists argue that may not be enough of a turn around to get McCain's campaign into front runner status.

"Without the donors, you are nothing," said Sheri Annis, a former Republican strategist. "You're only as powerful and as credible as your finances and therefore the media allow you to be." she said.

Annis also said that Gov. Mike Huckabee, R-Ark., who had a strong showing at the Iowa Straw Poll, needs to have a strong third quarter fundraising report.

"He has to show that he has more than just organizational skills in one place," Annis said.

Former Gov. Mitt Romney, R-Mass, was the GOP fundraising leader in the first quarter, however former Mayor Rudy Giuliani, R-N.Y., inched ahead during the second quarter -- and Romney topped off his campaign war chest with his own personal wealth to stay competitive.

The Romney campaign wouldn't say whether or not their candidate would write himself a check this time, but a Romney aide suggested Giuliani's fundraising capability is explainable by his national name recognition.

Romney's campaign is also lowering expectations this week.

"This quarter is a challenge, because the summer months are a slower time for fundraising," said Romney campaign spokesman Kevin Madden.

On Friday, the Romney campaign will hold a rally in Salt Lake City, Utah.

"We've put a premium on growing the number of new donors, so we can continue to work with them as we build our national grassroots organization," he said.

GOP strategists said Republicans are watching not only who is leading the field when it comes to fundraising, but who is also spending the most money.

"Romney's the guy to watch on that," Reed said, suggesting Romney is spending his money faster than the other candidates. "It's not just how much people are raising -- it's their burn rate and how fast they're spending their money."

ABC News' Bret Hovell, Jonathan Greenberger, Christine Byun, Jan Simmonds and Rick Klein contributed to this report.