June 26, 2007 — -- Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., and Barack Obama, D-Ill., can't say enough good things about each other's fundraising.
Obama is a virtual ATM, Clinton's campaign wants the public to know. It wouldn't be at all surprising, campaign officials say, if the first-term senator brings in more cash this quarter than the former first lady.
"He's raising a lot, and it's likely he will out-raise us this quarter," Clinton campaign manager Patti Solis Doyle told the Chicago Tribune earlier this month.
Obama, meanwhile, is equally impressed by the Clinton machine -- a fundraising engine, he reminds people, that was built over the eight years the Clintons spent in the White House.
"I'm sure the Clintons can raise much more money than us," he said at a Chicago fundraiser Monday night. "We're just trying to make sure that we can raise the paltry sums that allow us to compete."
Welcome to the strange, cruel world of early campaign fundraising, where kings are made, fortunes amassed and candidacies shaped more than six months before the first primary voters cast their ballots.
Clinton and Obama might both shatter fundraising records when the books are closed on the second quarter this weekend. But none of that will matter if one or the other brings in far more.
With the second quarter coming to a close Saturday, the candidates are engaged in one last dash for cash. They're sending out e-mail pitches, organizing receptions and dinners with high-dollar donors -- and, perhaps most important, managing expectations.
By the time financial totals get filtered through the media, what a candidate raises is almost secondary to whether that matches what they were expected to raise. That makes for some fascinating public maneuvering in the final days of a quarter.
Former President Bill Clinton himself even got in on the game Tuesday, in an e-mailed fundraising pitch sent to his wife's supporters.
"The fact is, our opponents may very well out-raise us -- and we can't afford to lose momentum now," he wrote.
A quick rundown of how things are shaping up for the candidates:
For the second tier, the fundraising numbers are an opportunity to establish a campaign's viability. But anything more than $5 million would be a decent haul for a candidate with low name recognition.
The media scrutiny of the numbers causes campaigns to scramble in managing expectations. McCain strategist John Weaver has been saying publicly that the McCain campaign would exceed the $12.5 million brought in during the first quarter, though he doesn't mention that McCain could still wind up far behind Romney's pace.
Before the numbers are finalized, the McCain campaign is downplaying the importance of the money race, arguing that a candidate as well-known as the Arizona senator doesn't need to spend money this early to succeed.
"We have a plan in place, and we're going to have the resources necessary to execute that," said Danny Diaz, a McCain spokesman. "We haven't been inhibited from doing anything we wanted to do because of resources."
Romney's campaign is also talking down the chances of his having a quarter that will keep up the pace set by his opening burst. Spokesman Kevin Madden said the campaign has been focusing on building the "base of our fundraising organization," and therefore may not have as much to show for the efforts as in quarter one.
"That total will be hard to match," Madden said.
Plenty of other aspects of the fundraising numbers provide clues to the campaign ahead. While most candidates are raising money only for their primary campaigns, some -- notably Obama -- are also socking away cash for the general election. It's a great way to boost the numbers early, but Obama won't ever be able to touch that money if he doesn't win the primary.
And while all campaigns love donors who can give the legal maximum of $2,300, small-dollar donors are also coveted. A donor who gives $50 or $100 can be coaxed into giving 10 more times or more -- and is more likely to become actively engaged in a campaign than someone who doesn't give anything.
With the end of the quarter looming, the campaigns also love to say they hate the race for campaign cash.
"Pundits and Washington insiders use these fundraising deadlines to measure the viability of campaigns," Obama said. "They like to judge potential in dollars, as if money alone somehow indicates widespread support."
"The Washington establishment is trying to write us out of the race," said Joe Trippi, a senior Edwards adviser. "And their reason? They say it's money -- they don't think we are raising an obscene enough amount."
Both quotes, incidentally, were part of fundraising appeals.