Political Capital with John Harwood

Obama Or Clinton: Who's The Real Front Runner?

Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama

Barack Obama's record-shattering fund raising performance in the second quarter raises a legitimate question: is Hillary Clinton really the Democratic front-runner after all?

Obama didn't just outraise Clinton in the months April through June. He blew past her vaunted political machine with 50% more primary cash--$31-million to $21-million. He has amassed an enormous list of more than 250,000 donors, to whom he can return again and again before the primary season is over. That represents a powerful grass-roots engine, showing that the enormous crowds Obama has attracted this year--represent more than just curiosity over the first African-American candidate with a real shot at winning the White House.

Yet the answer to the question remains yes--Clinton is still the Democratic front-runner. Losing the money race, which she once expected to dominate, means she's far more vulnerable than party insiders assumed as 2007 began. Yet Clinton herself has plenty of money to wage an effective campaign. She retains a solid double-digit lead in national polls months away from the quasi-national primary that the nomination contest has turned into. She's trailing narrowly in Iowa--but to John Edwards, not Obama. She leads by a solid margin in Nevada and New Hampshire, which follow Iowa in selecting delegates next January. She holds a narrow lead in South Carolina and a large one in Florida and California.

Early polls, to be sure, won't determine the outcome of the Democratic nomination race. But neither will early money. Joe Lieberman and Howard Dean both found that out in 2004. In the end, Democratic voters will reach a judgment as to which candidate has the best skills, experience and inclination to change the country's direction from the one set by George W. Bush.

They may well decide that Obama is that candidate. But right now, as the NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll last month showed once again, they continue to believe that candidate is Hillary Clinton.

Cash is a Campaign King


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