Donald Lambro

Veteran Democratic campaign fund-raising consultant Mike Lux voices similar doubts about the strategic importance of money this early in the campaign. "I do think that the role of money is exaggerated," Lux said. "Since 1972, when the presidential-nominating process was opened up to the primaries, the person with the most money in the early going has not gone on to win. It's overrated. "What presidential candidates need in the campaign cycle right now is enough money to run a strong enough campaign in Iowa and New Hampshire, and beyond that, if they do those two things well, momentum can take them the rest of the way," he said.

"This is not to say these strategists believe that money is irrelevant in who wins next year's caucuses and primaries," Lux went on. "Rather, they argue the amount of money raised this early in the two-year marathon race is not a reliable basis on which to forecast whom will be the strongest candidate next January."

"Is there someone out there who really thinks second-quarter fund raising -- or even third-quarter numbers -- have a great predictive value in guessing which candidates will win the nomination?" asked campaign analyst Stuart Rothenberg.

Steve Grossman, who chaired the Democratic National Committee during Bill Clinton's presidency, cautioned, "Money is clearly relevant to competitiveness and the perception of competitiveness. Yet there are lots of examples of people who have trumped their opponents in the money race but failed to do it at the ballot box."

Even so, the Democrats' heavy money is betting on Illinois Sen. Barack Obama, who has raised a total of $58.5 million, followed closely by New York Sen. Hillary Clinton with $52.5 million. Edwards lags with $23 million. But even at this early date, the folks in Iowa, where Edwards has the edge in most polls, are not impressed with the big money.

Grossman, a Massachusetts businessman, is supporting Clinton, whom he believes will be the party's nominee. Nevertheless, he "would not rule out somebody else catching fire and creating a surprise" in next January's first four contests.

The reason for this added caveat: The last presidential candidate he backed was Howard Dean.

Donald Lambro

Donald Lambro is chief political correspondent for The Washington Times.