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Candidates Work to Raise Money for Early Election

February 12, 2007 at 6:35 PM EDT

JUDY WOODRUFF: Chris Cillizza, thank you for joining us.

You spent the weekend watching Hillary Clinton in New Hampshire with, what, about half-a-dozen meetings with voters. Tell us what you came away with after watching her.

CHRIS CILLIZZA, The Washington Post: Well, you know, it was very interesting. There was a general tone of warmth but wariness for Sen. Clinton.

Most people came — I think they were interested in seeing her in the flesh, in person. Many of them had seen her on television, either as the senator from New York or the former first lady. But they hadn’t got a chance to really meet her, see her up close, and watch her, as New Hampshire voters like to do.

They like to meet their candidates one-on-one and get a real sense of the person, take their measure. So I think that’s what you saw happening in New Hampshire this weekend.

I’m not sure that Sen. Clinton closed the deal for these voters. I think what she was really doing was sort of — this was an introductory visit. It’s her first visit to the state in 10 years, so I don’t think the expectations were that she was going to convince a lot of people to sign on.

I think she did just fine. I think the one concern that she does have, and it came up again and again, is with the war in Iraq.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And the problem there?

CHRIS CILLIZZA: Well, the problem there is simply that Sen. Clinton, unlike former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards, has not apologized for her vote in favor of the use of force resolution in 2002. John Edwards, along with Barack Obama, the senator from Illinois, who was not in the Senate at the time of the vote, but said that he would have voted against it, both Edwards and Obama are to Clinton’s left on the war issue.

She was asked multiple times whether she wanted to recant that vote, whether she wanted to apologize. She refused to do so. Some in the crowd received that relatively warmly. They were fine with that. She got good applause when she said, “This wasn’t my mistake, it was the president’s mistake,” but not everyone in the crowd was won over by that remark. Many people still want her to say, “I made a mistake. I apologize.”

The effect of private fundraising

JUDY WOODRUFF: Chris, let's talk about fundraising. And we know that Sen. Clinton, Barack Obama, apparently, and others are already talking about opting out of the public financing and raising their money privately. What effect does that have on this presidential race?

CHRIS CILLIZZA: Well, this is something we've never seen before. In past elections, we've seen candidates not take public money in the primaries, but not in the general election. Even George W. Bush and John Kerry took money provided by the taxpayers in the general election.

This 2008 election, it's extremely unlikely that either the Democratic or the Republican nominee will go that route. What it means is that we're going to see even more money go into the process. Whereas each candidate got about $75 million in 2004 to spend on the general election, we could see candidates raising between $500 million and $750 million by the time it's all said and done for each of the nominees.

The number of people, including several past chairmen of the Federal Election Commission, have said that this will be the first billion-dollar election. So what it means is more money in the process, more time devoted by these candidates to raising money.

The Democratic leaders

JUDY WOODRUFF: We don't know yet how they're doing, because they don't report until the end of the quarter, but who's got advantages when it comes to money? And what are their comparative advantages?

CHRIS CILLIZZA: Well, the first person, obviously, who comes to mind is Sen. Clinton. Her advantage is that, number one, she's sort of a rock star candidate, in many ways, and her second advantage is that she carries the infrastructure, both from her Senate race in 2000 and her re-election race this past November, as well as her husband's, Bill Clinton, campaign infrastructure and fundraising infrastructure. So she has a whole national network of people set up ready to give.

Barack Obama, I think, is going to be in that same category when we talk about tens and hundreds of millions of dollars raised. But the difference there is that Sen. Obama, while he does have the rock star trait that Sen. Clinton has, he doesn't have that network set up yet. They're setting it up right now.

But, remember, Sen. Obama has only been in the Senate two years. He hasn't had the time to build those connections. So I think you're going to see a lot of people wanting to write checks to him but not knowing who to send it to or where to send it just yet.

On the Republican side

JUDY WOODRUFF: And just quickly on the Republican side, advantages?

CHRIS CILLIZZA: Sure. On the Republican side, I think the most important person to watch as it relates to raising money is former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani. He has a real burden to show that he is credible and viable in this race.

Because of his liberal social positions on things like abortion, and gun control, and gay marriage, and gay rights more generally, a lot of Republicans are skeptical that he can be competitive, despite the fact that, in public opinion polling, he continues to lead or run second to Sen. John McCain from Arizona.

I think what he needs to do with this first fundraising quarter, which ends at the end of March, is show that people are willing to make an investment in him. They're willing to put their money where their mouth is, and they're willing to invest in Rudy Giuliani's candidacy.

I think if he can raise the most money out of any of the top tier candidates on the Republican side, that argument will get a little more weight, he will get a little momentum. He'll be able to go into these states and say, "I've raised this money. I'm going to build these organizations. I'm going to run these ads, and I'm a credible candidate."

JUDY WOODRUFF: So behind the scenes, a lot of fundraising right now. Chris Cillizza with the Washington Post, thanks very much.

CHRIS CILLIZZA: Thank you, Judy.