WASHINGTON -- When it comes to campaign dollars, there's little difference in the bottom line between Democrats Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama. Both have raised about $80 million for their White House bids.
But how they're allocating their resources is key: With about $17.5 million stockpiled for the general election, Clinton has been able to convince some of her donors that she'll be the one facing the Republican nominee Nov. 4, 2008.
Clinton "wants to create an aura of invincibility," said Dennis Goldford, a political scientist at Drake University in Iowa.
Tuesday, the New York senator announced she had raised $27 million from July through September, about $7 million more than Obama for the third quarter. Obama had been the party's fundraising leader, while Clinton led in national polls for the Democratic presidential nomination.
Clinton said $5 million of her July-through-September receipts will be used for the general election if she becomes the Democratic nominee. Overall, about 22% of the money she has raised since January has been set aside for a battle against a Republican, compared with about 5% of Obama's funds and about 7% of John Edwards' campaign money.
Among Republicans, former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani leads his rivals in raising money for the primary fight and general election at the same time. About 11% of his funds raised from January to June will be available to him if he becomes the nominee.
Candidates who don't win the primary must refund the general election contributions to their donors. Any leftover primary funds can be used by the nominee in the general election.
Raising money for a primary fight and a general election is a relatively new phenomenon, according to fundraisers and campaign-finance experts. The 2008 campaign, which has a large field in both parties and a fast-paced nomination process, has led candidates to collect as much money as possible to show their strength and viability.
Many candidates opt to raise general election money now because they "don't want to come out of the primary season defenseless," Goldford said. "Money is their best weapon."
Former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, the top GOP fundraiser, has opted to raise money only for the primary. Romney, who is worth $190 million to $250 million, has dipped into his personal wealth for his campaign.
Kenneth Gross, a former Federal Election Commission lawyer, said Clinton's haul is partly a reflection of her support among wealthy donors who contribute to both the primary and general elections. Individuals can give up to $2,300 for each election. "Big donors believe she will make it to the general election," Gross said.
About 70% of Clinton's campaign contributions in the first six months of the year came from people who gave $2,300 each, according to the non-profit Center for Responsive Politics. That compares with 44% for Obama and 42% for Edwards, the center reported.
Clinton campaign manager Patti Solis Doyle thanked the senator's supporters in a message on Clinton's campaign website and implied they will be tapped again. "The early primaries and caucuses are coming up fast. We're going to need your help a lot in the next few months," she said.
Clinton's campaign also said 100,000 donors contributed in the third quarter, putting her ahead of the 93,000 donors who gave to Obama in the same period.
Obama spokesman Bill Burton noted more than 350,000 people have donated to Obama's campaign since January. Clinton did not release a similar figure.
Steve Grossman, a top Clinton fundraiser, said Clinton has enjoyed the support of wealthy givers who want to contribute the maximum $2,300 for each election "because they think she's going all the way."
Grossman noted the campaign has worked hard to increase its base of donors who have contributed smaller amounts and serve as volunteers. Clinton held 20 events this summer in which donors paid as little at $25 apiece.
"It's nice to have general election money," Grossman said, "but the army of activists is much more important to electing Hillary Clinton."
Money alone will not determine the nominee, said Michael Malbin, who runs the non-profit Campaign Finance Institute. In 2004, former Vermont governor Howard Dean spent $49 million during the Democratic primaries. That was $10 million more than Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry, Malbin said. Kerry was the party's nominee.
"Don't count out Obama and Edwards or any others yet," Malbin said.