Focus on fundraising; Re-do in MI & FL?

March 6, 2008 4:33:40 PM PST
Democratic Sen. Barack Obama raised a record $55 million in February for his presidential campaign, eclipsing rival Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton's own substantial fundraising for the month. All told, Obama has raised $193 million during his yearlong bid for the White House.The campaign's announcement Thursday came two days after Obama lost three of four primaries to Clinton. Her victories stopped his winning streak and extended the race into an unpredictable future.

Obama's February total was his second fundraising record. He raised $36 million in January, more than any other presidential candidate who has ever been in a contested primary. His combined January and February totals nearly matched what he raised last year.

"That's a humbling achievement, and I am very grateful for your support," Obama said in another fundraising appeal. "No campaign has ever raised this much in a single month in the history of presidential primaries. But more important than the total is how we did it - more than 90 percent of donations were $100 or less ..."

Until now, the high water mark for overall primary fundraising through February of an election year was set by President Bush in 2004, when he was unopposed. Bush had raised $155 million for the comparable period. Subtracting the money Obama has raised for the general election, Obama has raised more than $186 million.

Clinton raised an impressive $35 million in February, a significant recovery from January when Obama raised more than twice her total. But Obama has outpaced her both in fundraising and spending during the nominating contests.

More than $54 million of Obama's February money was for the primary election. The campaign said it raised $45 million through the Internet during the month and had 385,000 new contributors for a total of more than 1 million donors.

Details of their fundraising and spending for February won't be available until March 20, when the campaigns are required to file financial reports with the Federal Election Commission.

Riding her victory wave, Clinton's camp announced Thursday that she raised $4 million online since Tuesday's presidential primary successes in Ohio, Texas and Rhode Island.

The Clinton campaign said it had raised the money from the time polls closed Tuesday through noon Thursday. It reported 30,000 new donors. The influx of money made their online total raised for this month $6 million, the campaign announced.

With the outcome of their race uncertain, both campaigns are eagerly raising money for upcoming contests. The biggest one ahead is the April 22 primary in Pennsylvania, a state with two major media markets and a series of smaller ones that can consume advertising dollars. Obama has been airing television ads in Wyoming, which holds a caucus Saturday, and Mississippi, which holds a primary Tuesday. Both Obama and Clinton have radio ads in Wyoming and Obama has ads on radio in Mississippi as well.

Meanwhile, the former head of the Democratic National Committee doubted Thursday whether chairman Howard Dean would be able to get approval for a plan for do-over presidential nomination contests in Florida and Michigan.

"It'll be a hellacious battle," said Don Fowler, a former DNC chairman who sits on the party's rule-making committee.

Before the primaries started, "Howard Dean had enough votes to get most everything he wanted. Now that this thing has gone as far as it has and the lines have formed according to candidates, I'm not sure how that vote would shake out now," said Fowler, who has endorsed Clinton.

He said everything is being viewed in terms of how it benefits a particular candidate, not the party or the process.

Nonetheless, Fowler said, something has to be done, "the rules be damned" to seat delegates from states Democrats have to and can win in the general election. "We're going to forfeit those two big states? What kind of fools would we be," he said.

Officials in Michigan and Florida have shown renewed interest in holding repeat presidential nominating contests, and Dean has urged party officials in both states to come up with plans for how that can be done so their delegates can be counted at the national convention in late August.

"All they have to do is come before us with rules that fit into what they agreed to a year and a half ago, and then they'll be seated," Dean said Thursday during interviews on network and cable TV news programs.

Dean said the parties will have to find the money to pay for new contests.

"We can't afford to do that. That's not our problem. We need our money to win the presidential race," he said. The DNC offered to pay for an alternative contest in Florida last summer but was turned down, officials at the party say.

Sen. Bill Nelson of Florida, another of Clinton's supporters, also called for a new Florida primary, but paid for by the national party.

Cost may be a barrier to holding new elections. During a meeting Wednesday among House Democrats from Florida and Michigan, Rep. Alcee Hastings of Florida relayed estimates that another primary would cost the state between $22 million and $24 million, a vote-by-mail contest would cost at least $8 million and the bill for a caucus would be about $4 million, said Hastings spokesman David Goldenberg.

The Michigan governor, top officials in Hillary Rodham Clinton's campaign and Florida's state party chair all now say they would consider holding a sort of do-over contest by June. Officials in both states previously had insisted that the primaries held in January should determine how their delegates are allocated.

Clinton said she's waiting to see what proposals are put forward.

She won both contests, but no delegates. The results were meaningless since the elections violated national party rules. The DNC stripped both states of their delegates for holding the primaries too early, and all Democratic candidates - including Clinton and rival Barack Obama - agreed not to campaign in either state. Obama's name wasn't even on the Michigan ballot.

"I think it would be a grave disservice to the voters of Florida and Michigan to adopt any process that would disenfranchise anyone," Clinton said at a news conference Thursday. "Therefore I am still committed to seating their delegations, and I know they are working with the Democratic Party to determine how best to proceed."

She said it would be especially unfair to punish the 1.7 million Floridians who voted in the Democratic primary since the Republican-controlled Legislature and the state's Republican governor changed the date.

"They clearly believed that their votes would count, and I think that there has to be a way to make them count," Clinton said.

Obama's campaign said Thursday that it will be up to the DNC to decide how to handle the dispute. Spokesman Bill Burton said, however, that under no circumstances should Clinton be allowed to benefit from the contests.

Asked whether the campaign would pay for a do-over election, Burton said: "Our campaign is going to support whatever the DNC rules are, including a fair remedy to this problem."

Florida and Michigan moved up their dates to protest the party's decision to allow Iowa and New Hampshire to go first, followed by South Carolina and Nevada.

"The rules were set a year and a half ago," Dean said. "Florida and Michigan voted for them, then decided that they didn't need to abide by the rules. Well, when you are in a contest you do need to abide by the rules. Everybody has to play by the rules out of respect for both campaigns and the other 48 states."