As the primary season gets earlier and earlier, so does the race to raise the most cash. For months, the presidential candidates have been darting around the nation soliciting donations at a dizzying number of rallies, parties, and receptions. And that doesn't count Internet fundraising.
So far, Democrat Hillary Clinton has outraised all the other candidates. In the latest federal election filings, she reported $35 million available to spend on the primaries out of $89 million raised so far for both the general and primary races. She has spent more than $40 million.
Her main rival, Barack Obama, who has raised large numbers of small donations, is not far behind. He reported $32 million to spend on the primaries out of $79 million raised and has spent more than $44 million. "Clinton and Obama basically have unlimited money," says Steve Elmendorf, a Democratic strategist who worked on John Kerry's and Richard Gephardt's 2004 White House bids. "Neither has a real advantage over the other financially."
The leading Republicans have raised far less. Mitt Romney leads the pack with $62 million, including $17.4 million he lent his campaign. Romney has also spent more than his GOP rivals, $53.6 million.
The second-ranking Republican fundraiser is Rudy Giuliani, with almost $47 million raised and $30.6 million spent. Giuliani's campaign has been gathering steam, and at the end of the third quarter he reported $11 million available to spend on the Republican nomination—more than his party rivals.
Cash poor. Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, who has surpassed Romney in some recent polls, has reported raising just $2.3 million, of which he has spent about $1.7 million. Even if Huckabee does well in Iowa and New Hampshire, "it will be an extremely hard challenge for him to raise enough and be a viable candidate a couple of weeks after New Hampshire," says Michael Malbin, executive director of George Washington University's Campaign Finance Institute.
Much of the spending by candidates has been on local TV ads in the hot early primary or caucus states, particularly Iowa. Romney has placed the most TV and radio ads—a record 17,800, mainly on local TV in Iowa, New Hampshire, Florida, and South Carolina, according to the Nielsen Company. Obama has placed more than 10,300 TV and radio ads, tops among Democrats, mainly in Iowa. Clinton has placed about 7,800 TV and radio ads, also mainly in Iowa.
While Giuliani has placed only about 880 ads—and none in Iowa—he's concentrating on laying the groundwork in states with later primaries. He has spent thousands setting up campaign offices in places such as North Dakota and Missouri, two of the 22 states that will hold primaries on Super Tuesday,February 5.
The decision to move Super Tuesday to February from March was the real driving force behind the early fundraising push, says Malbin. "It used to be if you did well in those early states, you could turn a successful day into fundraising. But now candidates say they won't have the time." If Malbin is right, that means that candidates like Huckabee, John Edwards, John McCain, and Ron Paul, who have had some recent success with voters but have trailed in raising funds, may have a hard time keeping up after February 5.