TOPICS > Politics

Obama Tops Rivals, McCain Slips in Campaign Fund Raising

July 2, 2007 at 6:20 PM EDT

JUDY WOODRUFF: All right, Gwen Ifill and Mark Halperin, stay with us, because we want to talk about the other big political story of the day, and that is the record second-quarter fundraising by presidential hopeful Barack Obama.

The first-term senator from Illinois raised $32.5 million just over the past three months, the most ever by a Democratic candidate in a non-election year. And that money came from 154,000 new contributors, adding up to more than a quarter of a million donors this year.

New York Senator Hillary Clinton trailed Obama, with $27 million raised this quarter. Former North Carolina Senator John Edwards was well back, with $9 million, New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson with $7 million, and Connecticut Senator Chris Dodd with just over $3 million. The other three announced Democrats have not made their numbers available.

Meanwhile, among the Republican candidates, only Arizona Senator John McCain made public his second-quarter fundraising, just over $11 million. McCain’s campaign, by the way, made news today, announcing it plans to fire 50 staffers and to cut the pay of several senior aides.

For more on all this on the money and the role it plays, let’s turn back to Mark and to Gwen for that.

Gwen, to you first. You’re in New Hampshire. Barack Obama is there. You talked to him today. What does he say about what he’s accomplished?

What the money means

GWEN IFILL: As you can imagine, Judy, they're in a very good mood on the Obama campaign today. This was the kind of news which they knew they were going to be able to deliver, which is to say a quarter of a million people giving $32.5 million to a candidate who six months ago wasn't even in the race.

In fact, when I talked to Senator Obama today, that was exactly the term he used. He said, "We went from zero to 60 in six months. It was like building an airplane while you were taking off." And on a day like today, what they have been stressing, even leading up to yesterday's announcement, was that they were not only raising a lot of money -- and beating Hillary Clinton at her own fundraising game -- but that they were doing it by reaching very deep into their coffers.

They got an amazing amount of online -- $10.3 million they raised was online, from 110,000 donors. That's a lot of money and a lot of people, 90 percent of them $100 or less. So this is doing things the way it hasn't been done before.

It's not an accident that Senator Obama knew off the top of his head that at this time in the cycle four years ago, Howard Dean was being considered a wunderkind for having gotten 70,000 donors and raising $10 million. So look how much farther he has gotten. So he's pretty happy.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And, Mark, from your perspective, you're in Iowa today, but what does it look like? What's the significance of this for Barack Obama? He's not leading in the polls.

MARK HALPERIN: That's right. Look, we have two strong candidates. Both can lay claim to strong candidacies, head and shoulders now above all the other candidates, including John Edwards of North Carolina, who we can't write off, but really is back in the pack on this important area of money.

Money is important in politics, Judy, because we evaluate it and people in politics evaluate it as a sign of support, elite support, grassroots support. It's also important, though, in terms of how you actually spend it. And Barack Obama's campaign now has a chance, if they spend their money well, to make a real difference in their ability to overtake Hillary Clinton.

The Clinton campaign acknowledges Barack Obama will have more money this year going into next year when the voting starts. I think the real onus now is on the Obama campaign to figure out how to take that energy, how to take that support, and then take that money and amplify it to build on it, rather than just, as Howard Dean did, bring the money in, but then not spend it to great effect.

'The Bill Clinton factor'

JUDY WOODRUFF: Hillary Clinton is going to be there in Iowa tonight. She's going to have her husband, former President Bill Clinton, with her, unusual in her campaign to have him on the trail with her. Mark, does this say something about what Hillary Clinton has been doing wrong?

MARK HALPERIN: I don't think so. I think there's always second-guessing with the Clintons. "Is he coming in too early? Is he coming in too late? Will he overshadow her?" Her staff has thought long and hard about how best to use Bill Clinton. It's an asset. Even the Obama campaign acknowledges Bill Clinton's popularity with Democrats, his ability to bring excitement, clearly his ability to help her raise money.

But this is going to be a three-day minuet. People are going to watch closely: Does he overshadow her? Does he play the role assigned to him, to basically testify about her biography? The Clinton campaign says they feel pretty good about this trip. They're going to, in some ways, get him out of the way, burst that sort of anticipation, and then she's going to have to, they acknowledge, win this nomination, not with his manipulation, but with his quiet support, as much as Bill Clinton can be quiet.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And, Gwen, does this, in terms of the money, say something about what Hillary Clinton hasn't been able to do, that she's behind Obama?

GWEN IFILL: Well, certainly, but one of the things about the Bill Clinton factor -- and everybody has been counting on him, obviously, to bring in money -- is that every other campaign -- we're talking about the Obama campaign, the Richardson campaign, the Edwards campaign -- they're counting on a couple of things. They're counting on Clinton fatigue, which is to say that Americans are saying, "Haven't we done this before?" And they're also counting on Bill Clinton, for some reason, to overshadow Senator Clinton.

I think Mark is right: Senator Clinton so far has not made any missteps. She has been beat at her own game in fundraising, but she's run a very canny campaign and is certainly not planning to have her husband stand on stage in Iowa and overshadow her.

He did manage to overshadow all of the candidates four years ago when he showed up in Iowa to appear with them, I remember, at a steak fry. And so there's got to be some worry about that, but I don't think he dare does that with his own wife.

McCain's fund-raising figures

JUDY WOODRUFF: And, quickly, to the Republicans, the only numbers we have today, Mark, are John McCain, $11 million. But the bigger news out of the McCain campaign are the staff layoffs. How does that Republican race shape up right now?

MARK HALPERIN: It's a disaster for John McCain. I don't think there's any way to sugarcoat it, $2 million in the bank at this point for a man who not too long ago was the frontrunner. He's going to have to win this now in an unorthodox way, if he does win it. If he does win it, he's going to have to win it being creative and lucky. That was not the case just a few months.

I think the other three candidates now are clearly stronger, Romney, Giuliani and Fred Thompson, when he enters the race, he's going to have -- Senator McCain's going to have to figure out a lucky path to the nomination now.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And, Gwen, to you, the significance of these layoffs?

GWEN IFILL: All the campaigns, including McCain's, are all looking at the calendar right now. And even though John McCain would have to be extremely lucky at some point to pull him himself out of this dip that he is in, they're looking and they're saying it's only July. And it's July of the year before the election, so there's time to do a lot of things.

A lot of candidates who didn't do as well in this second quarter fundraising as they had hoped are looking at the calendar and saying, "It doesn't make any sense to pull out at this point."

In fact, John McCain was asked today whether he was planning on suspending his campaign. He said it would be "ridiculous" to do so in June or July. Of course, he didn't say it would be ridiculous to do so in September or October, so I we'll have to wait and see how this kind of staff cut -- and it is a significant staff cut. His own campaign manager has stopped taking a salary. I think he's going to have to wait and see if he can do this the way it's never done before.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, our own Gwen Ifill and Mark Halperin of Time magazine, it's great to have you both with us on this big political news day. Thank you.

GWEN IFILL: Thanks, Judy.

MARK HALPERIN: Thank you, Judy.