In a first test of political strength, Democratic White House hopeful Barack Obama outraised chief rival Hillary Rodham Clinton during the first three months of the year for money to use in the primary campaign -- massing a donor base of 100,000 names along the way.
Obama collected at least $25 million, of which $23.5 million was for the primary campaign and $1.5 million for the general election should he become the Democratic nominee. Under federal rules, funds raised for a general election race cannot be co-mingled with primary money.
Clinton announced on Sunday she raised $26 million from 50,000 donors, but would not reveal the primary/general election split. Clinton, unlike Obama, made a point of asking donors to write checks for the primary and general campaigns.
The Sun-Times has learned from a source familiar with Clinton's fund-raising that between $3.5 million and $5 million of Clinton's $26 million haul was for the general election -- which means Obama beat her either way -- unless she turns up uncounted, last-minute money.
Obama demonstrated enormous fund-raising ability on his own while Clinton was assisted in fund-raising by former President Clinton headlining events on her behalf.
During a conference call with top fund-raisers on Wednesday with Obama's finance chair Penny Pritzker, Obama's team bragged of creating a "separation gap" between Obama and the rest of the Democrats in the second quarter. Michelle Obama debuts on April 15 as a headliner in her own right at a fund-raiser aimed at female donors in Chicago.
The books closed on first quarter fund-raising at midnight last Saturday. Obama and Clinton -- as did other 2008 contenders -- released only selective, partial information about their fund-raising drives.
John Edwards, the third Democrat in the top tier, raised $14 million with $1 million for the general election -- double-digit returns good enough to keep him in the mix with mega-draws Clinton and Obama.
No candidate revealed the all important figure of how much cash is on hand -- and how much money they have been spending. On that front, Clinton would likely have the biggest balance since she transferred in $10 million from her Senate campaign fund. Obama did not have much in his Senate warchest and did not make any transfers.
Clinton's camp for some time has been bracing for Obama to outpace her in the race for new 2008 primary cash.
Obama raised $6.9 million over the Internet from more than 50,000 donors. Clinton collected $4.2 million from the Web.
Full information, including the names of donors over $200 and where they live, will not be made public until April 15.