(AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)
By NEDRA PICKLER
Associated Press Writer
DAVENPORT, Iowa (AP) - Democrat Barack Obama raked in $25 million for his presidential bid in the first three months of 2007, placing him on a par with front-runner Hillary Rodham Clinton and dashing her image as the party's inevitable nominee.
"We've exceeded all of our hopes and expectations," Obama said in an e-mail to supporters Wednesday. "You've sent an unmistakable message to the political establishment in Washington about the power and seriousness of our challenge."
The donations came from an eye-popping 100,000 donors, the campaign said.
The figures were the latest evidence that Obama, a political newcomer who has served just two years in the Senate, has emerged as the most powerful new force in presidential politics this year. It also reinforced his status as a significant threat to Clinton, who'd hoped her own $26 million first quarter fundraising total would begin to squeeze her rivals out of contention.
The campaign reported that the figure included at least $23.5 million that he can spend on the highly competitive primary race. The Clinton campaign has yet to disclose how much they can use for the primary verses money that is designated for the general election.
While Clinton has honed a vast national fundraising network through two Senate campaigns and her husband's eight years as president, Obama launched his bid for the White House with a relatively small donor base concentrated largely in Illinois, his home state. But his early opposition to the Iraq war and voter excitement over his quest to be the first black president quickly fueled a powerful fundraising machine.
Since he formally declared his presidential campaign in February, Obama has been traveling the country with a focus on urban areas where he could build his momentum and bring in new donors. He attracted big-money Hollywood and Wall St. executives along with families who came out to his stops in places like Oklahoma that sometimes are neglected by other candidates.
More than half the donors contributed via the Internet for a total of $6.9 million, the campaign said.
"It's been a truly historic response," Obama said in his e-mail, "a measure of just how hungry people are to turn the page on this era of small and destructive politics and repair our American community."
Donors are limited by law to contributions of $2,300 for the primary election, but Clinton, Obama and some other candidates also have been raising money for the general election. That allows them to take another $2,300 from each donor, but the money has to be returned if they don't win the nomination.
Clinton's campaign often solicited the $4,600 donations, while Obama's campaign focused on recruiting small dollar donors. In the coming months, he can return to those donors and ask those who haven't maxed out to give more.
Unlike Clinton, Obama says he doesn't take money from the lobbyists or political action committees that are frequent contributors on other campaigns.
Clinton campaign manager Patti Solis Doyle said, "We are thrilled with our historic fundraising success and congratulate Senator Obama and the entire Democratic field on their fundraising, which demonstrates the overwhelming desire for change in our country."
Obama was visiting Iowa Wednesday, holding an evening rally at a community college in Mason City.
Among the other Democratic candidates, aides to former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards said his $14 million in new contributions included $1 million for the general election.
New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson said he had raised $6 million and had more than $5 million cash on hand.
Aides to Connecticut Sen. Chris Dodd said he raised more than $4 million and transferred nearly $5 million from his Senate campaign, for a total of $9 million in receipts and $7.5 million cash on hand. Delaware Sen. Joe Biden lagged behind, with his staff reporting that he had total receipts of nearly $4 million, nearly half of which was transferred from his Senate campaign account.
Edwards, speaking to Davenport, Iowa, television station KWQC, complained that the pressure to raise huge sums was distorting the political process.
"We should actually be publicly financing these campaigns," Edwards said. "We shouldn't be doing these money contests. They're not healthy, they're not good for democracy. Public financing is the answer.
"While we still have this system, you have to compete the best way you can. What's clear is I think we're going to have at least three candidates on the Democratic side who have plenty of money to run a very serious campaign."
Among the Republican candidates, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney was the top money-raiser with $23 million, another eye-catching sum that place him in the same league with Clinton and Obama and left his GOP rivals in the dust.
Former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani raised $15 million for the quarter, while Arizona Sen. John McCain posted $12.5 million. Giuliani leads the GOP field in national popularity polls, followed by McCain.
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(Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)