Obama leads McCain in cash on hand

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WASHINGTON — Democratic Sen. Barack Obama, his presidential money apparatus slowed only slightly, raised more than $31 million in April, outdistancing Republican John McCain, who nevertheless enjoyed his best fundraising month yet.

Obama reported having more than $37 million in the bank at the beginning of May, a sizable sum considering that his biggest primary expenses were already behind him. Obama moved closer to the Democratic nomination Tuesday, but still faces three primaries against a financially weaker Hillary Rodham Clinton.

The former first lady raised about $22 million, aided by a stunning $10 million haul raised in the two days following her April 22 primary victory in Pennsylvania. It was her second best fundraising month of the campaign.

McCain raised nearly $18 million in April as his presidential campaign consolidated his fundraising base. He spent only about a third of that, capitalizing on his status as the Republican Party's presidential nominee-in-waiting. He entered May with nearly $22 million in the bank.

Continuing the expansion of his fundraising network, Obama's campaign reported nearly 1.5 million donors. With such extraordinary numbers behind him, Obama appears to have access to a continuing flow of money, though his April total was his smallest haul this year. Overall, he has raised close to $265 million in his White House bid.

Obama spent $36 million in April, exceeding his monthly fundraising for the first time. He and Clinton competed vigorously in Pennsylvania, where he substantially outspent her. He also spent heavily during April in Indiana and North Carolina, which held their primaries on May 3. Obama lost Indiana narrowly and won in North Carolina.

McCain and Obama filed their financial data with the Federal Election Commission on Tuesday. Clinton was expected to file hers by Tuesday's midnight deadline.

McCain's finances are an important marker as he moves into direct competition with Obama, who has shown himself to be a fundraiser without equal. McCain has been taking advantage of his status as the all-but-nominated Republican candidate, embracing the big donors from his vanquished foes and putting allies in charge of raising money at the Republican National Committee.

The RNC, which is the party's main political arm, had nearly 10 times more cash on hand than its Democratic counterpart at the end of April, a notable GOP advantage in what has otherwise been Democratic fundraising dominance this election.

The committee on Tuesday reported having $40.1 million in the bank. The Democratic National Committee had $4.4 million.

The RNC raised $15.7 million in April compared to $4.7 million by the DNC.

Significantly, the financial disparity comes in a presidential election year when the candidates rely on the parties to mobilize voters and promote their message. Overall this year, the RNC has raised more than $52 million, the DNC has raised more than $22 million.

McCain has put his own team at the RNC to operate a Victory Fund Committee that is corralling top Republican donors. Earlier this month, McCain and the party raised $7 million at a fundraiser hosted by New York Jets owner Woody Johnson. The proceeds of that event were not included in the RNC's latest report.

McCain and the RNC are holding a series of upcoming joint events, including one Wednesday in Irvine, Calif., hosted by Meg Whitman, who is stepping down as president and CEO of eBay. The event is expected to raise more than $2 million. Whitman had been a fundraiser for former McCain rival Mitt Romney.

"Republicans are united behind John McCain and our strong fundraising reflects that," RNC Chairman Robert M. "Mike" Duncan said.

Obama has taken his own quiet steps to take over the DNC and assemble a multistate team for the general election, several Democratic officials said Tuesday. With such a team in place, the DNC would be able to tap into Obama's prodigious fundraising.

The DNC has lagged in fundraising for some time, a condition made all the more difficult by the Democrats' protracted presidential primary. Top donors have been cheering on either Obama or Clinton and have not turned their attention to the party's needs. Together, Obama and Clinton have raised more than $400 million over the past year and a half, siphoning much of the party money.

Last week, the DNC announced agreements with Obama and Clinton to begin raising money together.

Several Democratic fundraisers said they did not expect the DNC to see much more of an influx of money until June, at the earliest. Some have voiced worries that the sometimes rancorous Democratic primary could leave some donors embittered, requiring careful nurturing from the ultimate winner.

Hassan Nemazee, one of Clinton's finance chairs, said it is up to the eventual nominee to reach out to the vanquished candidate's financial backers.

"The rapidity and the effectiveness (of unifying the two camps) is 100 percent a function of the campaign that has succeeded to reach out and embrace and encourage the supporters of the campaign that is not proceeding to join them," he said.

For McCain, the RNC will play a significant role in countering Obama's financial advantage during the summer months and during the fall campaign. McCain plans to accept public financing for the general election _ a sum of about $85 million. Obama is expected to decline the public money, raising more on his own. On Tuesday, his campaign reported he had $9.2 million set aside for the general election.