WASHINGTON -- The unasked question about the $26 million Hillary Clinton collected in the first quarter is: Can she keep up that fund-raising pace? The answer: It's unlikely because a big chunk of the New York senator's contributions came from donors who gave the maximum $2,300 they are allowed by law to donate to one candidate in a single year. What most of the news stories did not report: She cannot go back to these donors again until next year.
Finding new donors to take their place is going to be a lot harder, even for legendary moneyman Terry McAuliffe, the fund-raising genius who has raised hundreds of millions of dollars for the Clintons' voracious campaign-finance machine.
The other unasked question in the first quarter money race is about the nature of Sen. Barack Obama's equally impressive $25.6 million take over this same period.
He achieved something far more lucrative than nearly matching Clinton's fund-raising prowess: His 100,000-plus donors -- twice that of Clinton's list -- were largely smaller contributors who gave less than $100. That means he will be able to go back to them multiple times over the course of the year.
Democratic campaign strategists tell me he will likely raise $100 million or more from these donors before the year is out. Clinton's "maxed out" haul was sizeable and a record, but Obama is better positioned to raise more than her this year. "With Obama, we're talking real money that keeps on giving," one veteran party fund-raiser told me.
"Hillary's dependency on the maxed-out donor worked well for her, but you have to question whether they can sustain the $26 million she raised in the first three months. That's more likely to decline in the second quarter, while Obama's contributions are likely to grow," said Joe Trippi, who ran Howard Dean's 2004 presidential-primary bid.
"She has to do significantly better in the low-donor base, or she is going to have less money," Trippi said.
Other campaign-finance veterans agreed with Trippi's assessment and said that political reporters overplayed Clinton's higher fund-raising total, while missing the larger significance of Obama's much broader appeal among smaller, often repeat, donors.
"Those contributors who gave the maximum to Clinton ... they are through with Hillary. She has to find new contributors or new small-donor supporters," said Jan Baran, a prominent campaign-finance attorney here.