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Obama fund-raising blazes 3d-quarter trail

GOP's Thompson also makes strides

He may be stalled behind Hillary Clinton in national polls, but Democrat Barack Obama continues to put up big fund-raising numbers - more than $20 million and 93,000 new donors during the dog days of summer.

Among the leading Republican presidential candidates, latecomer Fred Thompson's campaign said yesterday he took in more than $8 million, which is likely to place him close behind Rudy Giuliani and Mitt Romney when they announce full third-quarter fund-raising results later this week.

Many campaigns held the figures - which besides poll numbers are a key, closely-watched barometer of candidates' relative strength - close to the vest after Sunday night's deadline for filing reports on their fund-raising during July, August, and September.

Clinton's campaign did not react to a Washington Post report that the senator from New York would declare raising more than $17 million by the time detailed filings are due to the Federal Elec tion Commission on Oct. 15. That would increase her take for the year to around $57 million for the primaries, about $18 million less than the senator from Illinois.

Similarly, Giuliani's campaign would not confirm a Fox News report that he took in around $10 million. And Romney's camp would not confirm a Washington Post report that he also brought in about $10 million, and that he dumped another $6 million or more into his campaign.

If accurate, that would mean Romney has dipped into his personal fortune for more than $15 million this year on top of about $45 million from contributors, about the same as Giuliani for the year. And it would accelerate a trend of Romney relying more on his own money and less on the largesse of supporters.

By digging into his personal accounts to bankroll his candidacy, Romney runs little risk, said Jennifer A. Steen, a Boston College political science professor and author of a book on self-financing candidates in American politics.

"My sense is it won't affect voters' perception of him much, if at all," she said yesterday. "I've never found any evidence that public opinion was swayed much, either positively or negatively, by a candidate's self-financing, especially in a case like this one, where the self-financing was combined with pretty significant fund-raising to make up the war chest."

While Ross Perot and Steve Forbes spent tens of millions of their personal fortunes in their failed presidential bids during the 1990s, she said that other factors shaped their political fates and noted that neither had held elected office - unlike Romney, a former Massachusetts governor.

Thompson, the actor and former senator from Tennessee who announced his candidacy on Sept. 5, has collected an average of $200,000 a day since and now has a donor base of more than 70,000, according to his campaign. In addition to the $8 million this quarter, a Thompson exploratory committee collected $3.5 million in the three months ending June 30.

Senator John McCain of Arizona, a Republican whose campaign downsized after overspending in the second quarter, has already qualified for public matching funds, but spokeswoman Jill Hazelbaker said no decision has been made about formally opting into the public funding system. She would neither confirm nor deny a report by that McCain raised $5 million in the past three months, which would raise his total for the year to $30 million.

Former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee, a Republican, will report raising more in the past three months than the $766,000 raised the previous quarter, a spokeswoman said.

But the only presidential candidate in either party who appears to be seriously bucking the trend of a third-quarter drop-off from earlier fund-raising is Representative Ron Paul, the Texas Republican. Paul's campaign expects to raise "substantially more" than the $2.4 million it took in during the second quarter of 2007, spokesman Jesse Benton said.

The campaign announced yesterday it took in $1.2 million in online donations just during the last week of September. Paul, from the libertarian wing of the party, is the only Republican presidential hopeful who opposes the war in Iraq.

Candidates typically raise less during the summer because of vacations; also by now, many of their core supporters have already given the maximum $2,300 allowed for the primary. For instance, Clinton and Obama, who are vastly outpacing other Democrats and Republicans, brought in substantially less during the third quarter.

Despite the decline, Obama's campaign said its donor base grew to a whopping 352,000 this year. His campaign said the numbers challenge the thinking that Clinton has a lock on the nomination.

"Many in Washington have spent the last weeks declaring the outcome of this race to be preordained, and the primary process a mere formality," Obama's campaign manager, David Plouffe, said in a statement. "Yet, in this quarter alone, 93,000 more Americans joined our campaign, because they desire real change and believe Barack Obama is the one candidate who can deliver it. This grass-roots movement for change will not be deterred by Washington conventional wisdom because in many ways it is built to challenge it."

In the first half of the year, Obama also raised $3 million to use in the general election if he wins the nomination, compared with $12.6 million for Clinton. She also has $10 million she transferred from her Senate account.

Former senator John Edwards of North Carolina, a Democrat, took in $7 million in the reporting period, raising his total for the year to more than $30 million and total donors to 150,000.

Edwards last week announced he will seek public funding, an admission that he could not keep up with Clinton and Obama.

Edwards campaign officials, however, said they have $12 million in unspent cash and expect to qualify for $10 million in public matching funds after Jan. 1, which will give them enough cash to compete in the early nominating contests.

"We are thrilled with the support we've received from people across the country," deputy campaign manager Jonathan Prince said in a statement. "Because of their efforts we will have the resources we need to be competitive and win the nomination."

Among the other Democrats, New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson's campaign reported taking in $5.2 million, raising his total for the year to $18.4 million; Senator Joseph Biden of Delaware raised nearly $2 million for the quarter for a total of $6.4 million to date; and Senator Christopher Dodd of Connecticut brought in $1.5 million in the past three months, a total of $8.8 million for the year.

Jenn Abelson, Scott Helman, Michael Kranish, and Lisa Wangsness of the Globe staff contributed to this report.

Pop-up GLOBE GRAPHIC: The money race

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