WASHINGTON - For the first time, Hillary Clinton raised more money for the Democratic primary and attracted more new donors than her chief rival, Barack Obama, outpacing all other presidential candidates in the chase for campaign cash over the past three months.
The New York senator reported yesterday that she raised $27 million in the third quarter - $22 million for the primaries and $5 million for the general election - and tapped 100,000 new donors while other candidates fell victim to the usual summer fund-raising slowdown.
On Monday, Obama reported bringing in about $20 million during the same period, with at least $19 million of that for the primary elections. He reported 93,000 new donors.
Obama has tried to use his fund-raising success as a shield against national polls, which show him trailing Clinton, and as an argument against Clinton's inevitability as the nominee.
Both candidates have now raised about $80 million each since the beginning of the year. Obama still leads Clinton in money he can use during the primaries, raising nearly $75 million to her approximately $62 million - a figure that does not include the $10 million she transferred from her 2006 Senate campaign. Clinton has raised more money than Obama that can only be used for the general election campaign.
Their money sets them apart from the rest of the Democratic field and supplies them with resources to run lengthy and expensive campaigns.
"These two candidates have exceeded all expectations," said Stephanie Cutter, a Democratic strategist and the communications director for John Kerry's 2004 presidential campaign. "It would take a significant shift in the field or a catastrophic world event to change the dynamics in this race."
Clinton's fund-raising has been remarkably steady from quarter to quarter, showing no dips or spikes and underscoring her methodical approach to the contest. Her third-quarter success came amid a scandal involving one of her top fund-raisers, Norman Hsu, who turned out to be a fugitive from the law. As the case against Hsu mounted in early September, the Clinton campaign returned $850,000 to 260 donors whose contributions were associated with him, much of it money raised in the first and second quarters.
Former senator John Edwards, lumped in a cluster with Obama and Clinton in polls of voters in the first-caucus state of Iowa, raised a distant $7 million in the quarter. He has said he plans to accept public financing that could boost his overall fund-raising by about $10 million. He reported having $12 million cash on hand.
The cash-on-hand figure will be a key measure of strength as the campaigns head into one of the most expensive stretches. Neither Clinton nor Obama reported how much money they had left in the bank.
Republicans' presidential fund-raising is far behind the Democrats'.
A top adviser to former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney said he would report contributions of nearly $10 million for the quarter, as well as a personal loan to his campaign of more than $6 million. That would bring Romney's overall public contributions for the year to about $45 million and his personal investment in his race to at least $16 million, for total receipts of about $61 million.
In a sign of the Romney campaign's desire to post a big fund-raising number, campaign manager Beth Myers last week asked all staffers to raise at least $1,000 before the end of the quarter. They were asked to make cold calls to potential donors.
With their third-quarter numbers, Obama and Clinton have helped push the Democratic field into record fund-raising territory for a presidential campaign.
"There's more excitement right now on the Democratic side," said Republican strategist Greg Mueller. "We have a two-term president who is in a war that has the country divided, and some of the Republican base has been depressed on immigration and spending."
Mueller and other Republicans said the financial gap does not necessarily translate into a Democratic edge during the general election.
Mueller and Scott Reed, who managed Bob Dole's Republican presidential campaign in 1996, predicted Republicans will get behind their nominee, especially if Clinton wins the Democratic nomination.
"It will mobilize the base of the party like it hasn't since 1994," Reed said.