Democratic front-runners Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton sparred yesterday over who has the most fund-raising potential for the battle ahead, as Obama suggested that he will soon retaliate against Clinton's sharpened attacks.
A day after Clinton's unexpected comeback win in New Hampshire, both campaigns claimed momentum as they started the next leg of what is likely to be a long, costly, and possibly divisive race for the Democratic nomination.
On Tuesday, Clinton rebounded from her defeat last week in Iowa after she and her husband, Bill Clinton, suggested there was little substance behind Obama's inspirational calls for change. Yesterday, Obama indicated he would respond in kind.
"I think that Senator Clinton, obviously, is a formidable and tough candidate, and we have to make sure that we take it to them just like they take it to us," Obama said on MSNBC. "I come from Chicago politics. We're accustomed to rough and tumble."
The Democratic field is likely to narrow further, with the Associated Press reporting that Governor Bill Richardson of New Mexico, who finished fourth in both Iowa and New Hampshire, plans to drop out today.
John Edwards, who came in a distant third in New Hampshire but edged Clinton for second in Iowa, held a rally yesterday in South Carolina, the state of his birth, where he is far behind Clinton and Obama in the polls but where he is putting his greatest hopes.
With the need for new fund-raising intensifying as the campaign widens across the country, Obama's campaign trumpeted having raised $8 million in the first eight days of the year. Within hours, the Clinton campaign announced that it had raised $3 million so far this year and had pledges for $5 million more.
Clinton raised slightly more money for the primaries than Obama in the last three months of 2007, $24 million to $22.5 million, and her campaign said it had more than $25 million in the bank at the end of the year. The Obama campaign did not disclose a cash-on-hand total.
Although both campaigns were still working to retool their strategies following the New Hampshire results, Obama's campaign boasted of its strength in Nevada and South Carolina, the only two states where the Democrats are competing before the Feb. 5 mega-contest that includes 22 states.
The senator from Illinois won the key backing yesterday of the 60,000-strong union representing Nevada's casino workers, which is considered the best organizing machine in the state and thus crucial to the outcome of the Jan. 19 caucuses, the next contested race for Democrats. In addition to the casinos' Culinary Workers Union, the Nevada chapter of Service Employees International Union also endorsed him yesterday.
Obama is also looking increasingly strong in the polls in South Carolina, where a majority of voters in the Jan. 26 primary are expected to be African-American.
In contrast, even as Clinton communications director Howard Wolfson told reporters that she would "compete vigorously" in every state and Clinton planned a trip today to Nevada, the campaign appeared to be focusing on the delegate jackpot on national Super Tuesday.
The campaign organized a conference call for reporters with members of Congress from states that will be voting that day, to talk up the New York senator's standing in their delegate-rich states.
The voting methods used in the different states on Feb. 5 could help determine who wins.
Obama's camp asserted that the enthusiasm of its supporters would be particularly valuable in the seven states with caucuses, which demand more time and commitment from participants.
Clinton, on the other hand, could be better positioned in the eight states that allow only registered Democrats to vote, since Obama has done significantly better among independents and Republicans so far.
The Clinton camp was buoyant after having pulled off the narrow New Hampshire win in defiance of polls that had predicted a possible double-digit loss.
"Momentum is clearly on our side," said Clinton national campaign chairman Terry McAuliffe. "Voters across the country are going to see what New Hampshire voters saw."
But Jamal Simmons, a Democratic consultant unaffiliated with either campaign, said that while Clinton clearly had gathered momentum from her come-from-behind New Hampshire win, it might not last until Nevada.
"If you look at what happened this week, Barack Obama's bounce [from Iowa] clearly did not last through New Hampshire over the course of five days," he said. "So over the course of 11 days, you could certainly see that bounce wear off."
Clinton took a break from the campaign trail yesterday to stop at her home in Chappaqua, N.Y., and then go to the campaign's headquarters just outside Washington, D.C., to thank her staff.
Her staff took advantage of the New Hampshire win to fish for more cash, revving up 500 fund-raisers on a conference call made available to reporters.
Obama, meanwhile, attended a luncheon fund-raiser at the State Room in Boston and later held a rally in New Jersey. He was scheduled to campaign in South Carolina today and then in Nevada tomorrow to accept the Culinary Workers' endorsement.
Obama's comments yesterday about "rough and tumble" politics, and the apparent success of Clinton's attacks in New Hampshire, suggested the race may get considerably nastier before the nomination is decided.
But Democratic Party activists and political analysts said they had little concern that any acrimony would prevent the party from uniting for the general election - especially if the nomination is determined on Feb. 5.
"I think there will be time to heal wounds," said Hans Noel, a political scientist at Georgetown University.