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Money Chooses Sides

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Leo Hindrey, the former CEO of the YES Network and one of Edwards’s prime bundlers, told me, “The Clinton people think they own New York—but what they’re finding out is that it’s true for the Senate but not for the presidency.” Mixer added, “What we’ve heard is that they tell people, ‘If you give money to us, you can’t give to anyone else.’ We say, ‘We understand she’s your senator, but why not help us out, too?” Mixer pauses. “Hey, we’re doing fine—there’s a lot of money in New York.”

Precisely how much would not become clear for another two weeks, the deadline for the campaigns to file detailed reports with the Federal Election Commission. But 24 hours later, Clinton’s first-quarter total became public—via the Drudge Report, no less. The number was indeed staggering: $36 million. But not as staggering as it appeared. For one thing, it included $10 million left over from her Senate race last year. And of the remaining $26 million, some (though the campaign didn’t disclose the figure) had been raised for the general election. By leaking the $36 million figure, the Clinton team was hoping to garner one news cycle in which their results would be seen in the most flattering light. And by not revealing their primary number, they would deny the press the ability to do an immediate comparison with Obama’s—which they suspected might be larger than hers.

They were right about that, but they would have to wait awhile to discover just how right. Displaying their own media savvy, Obama’s people let anticipation mount for three days before unveiling their numbers. Speculation flooded the political ether: $20 million? $21 million? $23 million?! More, in fact: $25 million, an astonishing figure for a start-up campaign, all the more so because $23.5 million was for the primaries—more than Clinton’s total. (By law, the maximum individual donation to presidential candidates is $2,300 for the primaries and the same for the general election, and whereas Obama’s fund-raisers, as a rule, collected only primary cash, the Clintonites held many $4,600 events.)

And what of New York? Not surprisingly, the Clinton number was gigantic: more than $8 million. But Obama’s was nothing to sneeze at: more than $4 million. Consider, for a start, that Clinton raised next to nothing in Chicago (this in spite of its being her actual hometown). And consider the likelihood that Clinton has tapped out her high-dollar donor base in the city, while Obama’s new-money brigade is expanding as contributors are transformed into bundlers.

Ten minutes after the Obama press release hit my in-box, I phoned one of Clinton’s most potent fund-raisers in the city.

So: $25 million total, $23.5 million for the primary, 100,000 donors, I said.

“Wow.”

Surprised?

“I think everybody will be surprised. Her number was what they always told us it was going to be. But the idea that he would get as far as he got, I don’t think anyone thought it was possible.”

Seems as though her people let expectations get away from them a bit.

“The last couple weeks, they’ve been trying to play down our number to spin you guys back to where they wanted you. But it’s pretty hard to spin this.”

Not that McAuliffe isn’t prepared to give it the old college try. It’s the Friday after the numbers hit the streets, April 6, and Clinton’s chairman and I are sitting in Mantz’s tenth-floor office in the campaign’s K Street headquarters. The couch is red, the carpet is blue, and McAuliffe’s face is alabaster-white. McAuliffe, 50, is justifiably called the greatest fund-raiser in Democratic history (though critics of the corrupting influence of corporate money in politics hardly consider that an honorific). Also the most maniacal: Famously, he once wrestled a 260-pound alligator to win a $15,000 donation to the Florida Democratic Party. Today, McAuliffe reminds me that, as a kid growing up, he was a boxer. “We’re now in a fight,” he says. “This is great. I’m actually excited.”

I start by asking about the campaign’s efforts to foster around Hillary a sheen of invulnerability—efforts that now seem to have backfired. (On top of Obama’s haul, the Edwards campaign pulled in $14 million, double its take in the same period four years ago.) I tell McAuliffe that I’d spoken to a Clinton White House veteran, who observed, “It’s like they thought they were running the Mondale campaign; they were just going to smother the other guy with money and endorsements.”

“Let’s just stop right there,” McAuliffe says, his voice quickly rising. “So we just finished up the biggest quarter in the history of American politics. She’s ahead in the polls. We’re taking nothing for granted … I’ve said this from day one, I’ve said this to Hillary: You’ve got to earn it. She knows it, her husband knows it, and it’s gonna be a long, hard fight.”


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