Democrat John Edwards, who last week became the only leading presidential candidate to announce he would accept public campaign financing for the primaries, today reported that his organization raised a disappointing $7 million over the past three months.
That's half the amount he pulled in during this year's first quarter and $12 million less than Sen. Barack Obama raised over the past three months. (By late Monday, Democratic front-runner Sen. Hillary Clinton had yet to announce her third-quarter total.)
But Edwards's strategists came out swinging, and their focus was on front-runner Clinton. The former first lady, who has said in the past that she supports public campaign financing, should "put your money where your mouth is," said Edwards's deputy campaign manager Jonathan Prince during a conference call with reporters. "John doesn't believe you should say one thing and do another."
While many have characterized Edwards's decision to accept public campaign funds as a sign of a deflating campaign—the move will limit his spending in the primaries while his opponents are able to write checks as fast as they can raise money—Prince and Edwards campaign strategist Joe Trippi insisted that it will instead draw a sharp distinction between the former senator from North Carolina and Clinton.
Edwards, Trippi said, "does not" want the race to be framed by money.
"We believe that people are sick and tired of the corroded, busted system in Washington," he said. Trippi reiterated Edwards's call for all candidates to forgo contributions from political action committees and lobbyists. Both Edwards and Obama have eschewed such donations; Clinton has not, defending them as a way to give voice to Americans.
The Edwards campaign has said that its goal, for federal matching purposes, is to raise $40 million, and it has pulled in just over $30 million. "We feel very good about that," Prince said. The campaign is also holding over $1.5 to $2 million each quarter for the general election.
When asked if the debate over whether to participate in public financing resonates with typical American voters more interested in, for example, global warming or healthcare policy, Prince insisted that it does.
"Voters are making very complex judgments" about a candidate's character, he said, and they want to know from where convictions arise on all major issues—and how money may influence those convictions.
The campaign certainly hopes that's true, particularly in Iowa, where Edwards has staked his presidential ambitions and where he once was the clear Democratic front-runner. The state now appears to be a toss up among Edwards, Clinton, and Obama. And though polls predicting caucus results are notoriously unreliable, this week for the first time a major poll has Obama, whose campaign said it has pulled in more than 93,000 new donors over the past three months, leading in Iowa.