Monday Morning Quarterback: It's All About Money

To the extent these days that presidential politics is not about Iraq -- and the Terror War, however one defines that -- it is about money. Hillary Clinton drew thousands to a block party and rally in downtown Oakland, California yesterday. But it was fewer than the 12,000 who turned out for Barack Obama in the spring. The money race looks like that, too, with Obama expected to edge Clinton again in fundraising for the just-ended third quarter of 2007.

At the end of every quarter, the candidates' standing in the money race is picked over to determine ongoing viability.

Candidates have been scrambling to pad their totals by the end of the quarter. Various gimmicks were employed. Hillary's campaign offered the opportunity for a half-dozen lucky givers to win a lottery -- by contributing again online -- to hang out with Bill, eat chips, and watch a debate. Which actually sounds pretty interesting. Late last week, they tossed in John Grisham as well. Maybe not so much there.

While Obama and Clinton are at the top of the fundraising heap, everyone, including them, is reportedly fading from their earlier totals. Think the distractions of summer, a slowing economy, and a more tapped out pool of conventional contributors.

John Edwards is particularly fading. Despite winning the last Democratic presidential debate, and continuing to show strong in the first-in-the-nation contest of Iowa, Edwards' fundraising is off again this quarter. So he's going to take federal matching funds. This was never part of his plan. It will give him a cash infusion -- all contributions are matched up to the first $250 per contributor -- but will subject him to spending caps in the primaries and caucuses. Which can be a real problem as he tries to supplant the financial juggernaut of Obama to take on front-running Hillary.

Obama took a narrow lead over the weekend in Newsweek's new poll of Iowa -- which Edwards must win if he is to have chance -- with Clinton close behind and Edwards just behind her. Romney leads on the Republican side. But he's spent unanswered millions on TV there, and has just seen his longstanding lead in New Hampshire evaporate into a statistical tie with Rudy Giuliani.

Romney and Giuliani are the two who are expected to lead the GOP side of things. New candidate Fred Thompson looks to trail the fundraising leaders substantially. John McCain, who had a boost in New Hampshire, continues to fade financially. He's already had to take the option that Democrat Edwards finally took, that of opting for federal matching funds.

Hillary is looking stronger in the national polls, seeing her leads over the Giuliani and the other Republican contenders increase in a Fox News poll (pdf file) at the end of last week. She leads them by more than Obama in that poll, which is a reversal of form.

Expect the Clinton team to talk up her strength in the national polls, both in her own party, where she has a sizeable lead over Obama, and in the match-ups with Republicans. And they'll focus on her leads in early states like New Hampshire, Nevada, and South Carolina, the latter of which Obama has somtimes led.

They'll do that because Obama has that slender lead now in Iowa, which as the first contest can change everything, and looks to have the fundraising edge over her for the third quarter in a row.

Of course, the former first lady has a not so secret weapon in Iowa. That would be her husband, former President Bill, who dominated some of last week's news with his Clinton Global Initiative summit in New York. It wrapped up with some big commitments for action by its participants. From the ranks of the 1200 attendees - who reportedly pay $15,000 for the privilege of attending and rubbing shoulders with President Bill and various business and political leaders and Hollywood stars such as Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie - came major commitments to help impoverished children, fight disease, and offset greenhouse gas emissions.

It's not just the global glitterati that loves Bill Clinton. He's extremely popular in Iowa. Twice now he's made major statewide swings in the Hawkeye to boost Hillary, and each time she's come away with a lead in the polls. Expect another such in early January.

On the Republican side, as the fundraising numbers emerge, Giuliani will point out that Romney is relying on his personal fortune to make up for his declining fundraising numbers. Romney allies will spin that there's a lot more where that came from. And Thompson's forces will say that they can do more with less, using the new media of blogs and online video and the former Law & Order star's own celebrity.