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Analysts: Clinton Fundraising Victory Important, But Symbolic

First Posted: 03/28/08 03:45 AM ET Updated: 05/25/11 01:15 PM ET

2007-10-02-clintonfund.jpgFor the first six months of the presidential campaign, Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL) has pointed to his gaudy fundraising totals as evidence that he could overcome Sen. Hillary Clinton's (D-NY) advantage in the polls. Tuesday morning, Clinton took a step towards erasing that financial edge, announcing her campaign had pulled in $27 million dollars during the third quarter period -- $7 million more than the senator from Illinois.

Clinton's total was at once impressive and unique. She nearly matched her second quarter totals and was the only candidate not to report a sharp drop off in summer fundraising.

But was it enough to make Obama sweat?

Likely no. In terms of money raised for the primary, the two senators were nearly even in third quarter receipts -- Clinton brought in $22 million to Obama's $19 million. The same holds true in regards to total cash raised since the primary process began - Obama's haul so far is $74.9 million to Clinton's $72.6 million. Moreover, Obama still bests Clinton in terms of number of individual donors, an important statistic when it comes to bringing people to the polls.

"I know everything is portrayed as a race between winner and loser. But ever quarter is just measuring a small segment and the real race is who wins the election," Stuart Rothenberg of the Rothenberg Political Report told the Huffington Post. "There will be a buzz for her numbers, how much she beat him by, how well she did. But both of their fundraising for the quarter is out of sight.... She won the quarter. Give her a gold star. Give her an extra helping of dessert. But you still have to keep your eye on the ultimate goal." (Read more below)

Indeed, the consensus among political observers is that Clinton's third-quarter fundraising victory is more symbolic than anything. It helps reinforce the New York senator's image of inevitability and bolsters a storyline for the media. But in terms of the primary contest, the fundraising battle won't carry much significance.

"I don't think it demoralizes [Obama's] campaign," John Sides, Professor of Political Science at George Washington University, told the Huffington Post. "It only affects the perceptions of journalists. Look at the newspaper headlines. It will be 'Clinton Overshadows Obama.' That's were it will matter... What Obama can take heart in is that there is a lot of unpredictability to the process."

There are, of course, benefits to winning the money haul. As the candidates enter the stretch run of the primary season, large sums of money will likely be poured into media and television advertising, as well as ground outreach for potential voters. But in the end, pundits are quick to note, there is no direct correlation between fundraising prowess and electoral success.

"I'm not denigrating what the Clinton people did," Larry Sabato, Professor of Political Science at the University of Virginia, told the Huffington Post, "but this process for better or worse starts in Iowa and I've seen plenty of fundraising giants fall there. Money matters in Iowa. But it matters less there than elsewhere."

There are ways in which Clinton and Obama's third quarter totals alter the complexion of the 2008 race. Former senator John Edwards -- who earlier this week announced he would accept public financing for the primary election -- finds himself in even more of a financial bind as the $7 million he brought in during the past three months puts him well behind his two main competitors for the Democratic nomination.

"Edwards is in a bit of trouble here," said Sides. "At some point you are going to run into a ceiling where you don't have the funds you need to do the basic outreach of a candidacy. What he has to hope for is that Clinton and Obama are going to start attacking each other."

But perhaps the biggest losers were the Republican presidential candidates. Few have released their third quarter totals, but it is widely believed that the GOP's haul will be well behind their Democratic counterparts.

Historically, such a disparity is rare. Politically, it could prove a major hindrance for the Republican nominee.

"This is pretty exceptional," said Sabato, "and it suggests how much trouble the Republicans are in at least 13 months before the general election."