WASHINGTON - Campaign strategists in both parties say the unprecedented amount of money flowing to presidential candidates - and their ability to raise more cash quickly via the Internet - could give longer life to those contenders who lose the early contests, and would in past elections have been too strapped for money to continue their campaigns.
Both Senator Hillary Clinton of New York and Senator Barack Obama of Illinois have raised record amounts of cash, with Clinton collecting more than $90 million, and Obama, more than $80 million, in the first nine months of this year. Combined with the receipts from aggressive fund-raising in the last three months of this year, the two Democrats are expected to have enough funds to continue well beyond Iowa and New Hampshire, no matter how they finish.
On the Republican side, former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani, who is lagging in polls of the early states, is already stockpiling money for later contests and is campaigning hard in Florida, which is sched uled to hold its primary Jan. 29. And Mitt Romney, the independently wealthy former Massachusetts governor, "can always go to Fleet Bank" for more cash, if donors dry up, quipped his former campaign strategist, Michael Murphy.
With at least four campaigns secure beyond the early states, the race could remain more competitive than usual beyond the traditional testing grounds of Iowa and New Hampshire. In earlier cycles, campaigns operated paycheck-to-paycheck, counting on wins in the early contests to help them raise money for the next primary. Those who failed either to win or place in New Hampshire often found themselves without the means to travel to the next primary, forcing them out of the race.
"Bob Kerrey got out of the race [early in 1992] for a simple reason: He ran out of money," said Tad Devine, a Democratic consultant who managed the former Nebraska senator's presidential campaign and is not affiliated with a campaign this year.
This time around, those candidates with high levels of support early in the process, like Kerrey had in 1992, have been able to raise far more money, both because of changes in fund-raising laws that increased the maximum amount that individuals can give and because donors have been more energized this year, especially among Democrats.
In addition, the advent of Internet fund-raising has given new life to candidates whose messages appeal to voters with strong passions on a single issue, such as Representative Ron Paul, Republican of Texas, a libertarian who is the only GOP candidate to oppose the Iraq war.
Such candidates no longer need to make a strong showing in the early voting states to raise money; even small numbers of supporters, scattered around the country, will respond to Internet pleas for quick infusions of cash.
"There's a whole new world here," Devine said. "Now you have a situation where someone, a day after a good performance, can in a day on the Internet raise a million dollars. You have candidates who have resources that were never available to others before. Suddenly, raising five or six million dollars a week isn't a pipe dream."
Former governor Mike Huckabee of Arkansas, a dark-horse contender in the Republican race, attracted $30,000 in Internet contributions just from people impressed by his answers during the recent Florida debate. And Paul, with his small but passionate following, raised $4 million in a single day - more than the amount former president Bill Clinton raised during all of 1991, as he geared up for the 1992 primary season.
"We're budgeting our money for Feb. 5 right now," said Jesse Benton, a spokesman for Paul, referring to the date when more than 20 states will vote in primaries. He said the campaign is on track to reach its goal of raising $12 million this quarter - a stunning amount for a contender political specialists give little or no chance of winning the GOP nomination.
Candidate fund-raising statistics for the last quarter of the year will not be public until mid-January, after the New Hampshire primary, so it is not clear how much cash on hand candidates have to propel them into later primaries. But Clinton, Obama, Giuliani, and Romney have already invested heavily in states beyond the early deciding states of Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina, giving them bases to operate after the traditional winnowing period.
Other top-tier candidates are more reliant on momentum from early states to juice their fund-raising. Former senator John Edwards, Democrat of North Carolina, and Senator John McCain, Republican of Arizona, have accepted matching funds under a new federal law, giving them a chance to maximize any momentum they can build in Iowa, New Hampshire, or South Carolina, which will hold its primary Jan. 26.
Edwards's campaign aides said they believe that a strong showing in Iowa for the former senator, currently in third place in the polls there, will convince Democrats he can go the distance, attracting more donations. The campaign has enough money to fund its operations at least through the South Carolina primary, they said.
The lightly funded Huckabee also must count on a win - or close second - in Iowa to bring in large amounts of donations from people who like the former Arkansas governor, but were reluctant to send cash because they didn't think he could win.
For Giuliani, saving enough money to make a big push on Feb. 5 is a top priority. The former New York mayor has strong support in national polls, stemming largely from his handling of the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. But his liberal positions on gun control, abortion, and gay rights are hindering his numbers in Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina, where GOP voters are more conservative. Giuliani is campaigning in those states but is banking on a win in Florida, where he is well ahead in opinion polls, to give him momentum going into Feb. 5, when he is favored to win such states as New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut.
Still, analysts said, if a single candidate of either party wins both the Iowa caucuses and the New Hampshire primary, it would be very difficult to stop him or her, since money isn't a replacement for momentum.
The relatively large war chests of the 2008 contenders may get them to Feb. 5, said Bill Carrick, a Democratic consultant based in California, but none will have the vast resources necessary to be able to run a get-out-the-vote operation in so many large states. Therefore, they will sink or swim on their messages, not their bank accounts.
But "as long as there's a ray of hope," candidates will stay in the race until they don't have a penny left, Devine said, recalling the day in 1992 when Kerrey pulled out, despite a desire to continue.
And some campaigns are hoping that enough early states will break in different directions to make for a long nominating process, well beyond Feb. 5.
"There could be a split on Feb. 5, and we wake up Feb. 6, and we don't have a nominee," said Benton, the spokesman for Paul. "Then it's a knock-down, drag-out fight."