WASHINGTON — Barack Obama raked in $40 million in March, leaving Hillary Rodham Clinton and her $20 million in the fundraising dust and stuffing his campaign treasury so he can outspend her in the crucial Pennsylvania primary.
His haul in new donations also buttressed his argument to Democratic superdelegates that he has built a vast network of donors and volunteers that they wouldn't want to lose by denying him the nomination.
Obama has attracted nearly 1.3 million donors, largely through the Internet.
He has raised $131 million in just the first three months of this year to $70 million for Clinton. Republican John McCain's campaign has not revealed his March fundraising, but he has been far behind the Democrats, raising less than $23 million in January and February combined.
Obama's campaign manager, David Plouffe, claimed a double benefit from the Illinois senator's fundraising. "Many of our contributors are volunteering for the campaign, making our campaign the largest grass-roots army in recent political history," he said.
Clinton, speaking to reporters in Burbank, Calif., in the midst of her own fundraising sweep through the state, said: "We're both raising huge amounts of money, and I am thrilled at how effective Democrats have been in raising money the last 15 or so months.
"I will have money to compete. Obviously Sen. Obama has more than enough money to compete. But this is a good news story because it means we are raising it from people committed to our candidacies."
Indeed, the numbers, even for the lagging Clinton, are remarkable. While both raised less than they did in February, the March contributions came during a lull in the presidential contest. There have not been any primaries or contests since March 11, and the most competitive showdowns were March 4 in Texas and Ohio.
Obama's money has given him a significant spending edge over Clinton in Pennsylvania, where the April 22 primary is the biggest delegate prize left on the Democratic calendar. He has purchased more than $2.7 million in television ads in the state, according to data compiled by TNS Media Intelligence/Campaign Media Analysis Group, which tracks political ads. Clinton has spent almost $900,000 on ads in the state.
His money also has allowed Obama to look over the horizon to May contests in Indiana and North Carolina. He has already spent about $230,000 on ads in each state.
Clinton began airing her first North Carolina ad on Thursday, a 60-second spot that urges viewers to submit questions to her campaign. "Just go to NCAskMe.com, and then I'll be getting back to you here on TV to answer your questions and offer some solutions," Clinton says in the ad.
Obama's financial edge allows him to spend on what many politicians would consider strategic luxuries. He's even running Spanish language ads in Pennsylvania _ not a state with a large Hispanic population.
"If that's not an embarrassment of riches," observed Evan Tracey, the chief operating officer at TNS Media.
Obama outspent the New York senator heading into the March 4 contests in Texas and Ohio. Clinton still won the primaries in both states, though Obama took more delegates in Texas by winning a concurrent caucus there.
Obama's money also provides a separate story line focused on his powerful network of donors. With neither candidate able to win the nomination on the basis of delegates selected by state primaries and caucuses, the burden falls on party officials and elected officials _ the so-called superdelegates _ who are weighing a variety of factors in making their selection.
"His ability to raise more money than Hillary Clinton is part of the handicapping that is going on by superdelegates," said Steve Murphy, a Democratic consultant who worked on Bill Richardson's presidential campaign but who is now unaligned.
Stephanie Cutter, a Democratic strategist who worked on John Kerry's 2004 presidential campaign, noted that while 1.3 million donors is only a fraction of the total number of people who have voted in the presidential contests so far, "it still represents a ground force unlike anything we've ever seen."
"It's hard to argue that he's not a representing a _ quote _ new kind of politics _ end quote _ with 1.3 million donors," she added.
Obama's flush finances could work against him, however, if his heavy spending doesn't yield results. A sizable Clinton victory in Pennsylvania could raise questions about Obama's viability.
Clinton's ad in North Carolina suggests she is not afraid of spending money either and could force Obama to ratchet up his advertising in that state.
Some unaligned Democrats remain wary of the entire situation, afraid that the quantities of money and continuing competition will hurt the eventual party nominee as McCain builds up his support with little opposition.
"Obama and Clinton's fundraising numbers are impressive," Donna Brazile, Al Gore's campaign manager in 2000, said in an e-mail exchange. "There's no question that voters remain excited about the two candidates, but if this money is used to tear the party apart or to destruct the other while McCain is out on a bio tour, it would be akin to pouring it down the drain."
(This version CORRECTS year in last graf to 2000, not 200)