Bill Clinton defined the March 31 financial filings as the "first primary" as he exhorted donors to do their utmost to lift his wife to the winners' circle. Now the results are in - and Sen. Barack Obama is the victor by a wide margin.
The breadth and scope of Obama's win weren't apparent until when we got to see the fine print of the detailed first-quarter financial reports filed with the Federal Elections Commission.
On the surface, his fund-raising success seemed roughly similar to Sen. Hillary Clinton's - by itself a big victory for the rookie from Illinois. She reports $22.5 million on hand (minus debt) that she can spend during the primary, while he has $19 million.
But $10 million of Clinton's total comes from funds transferred to her presidential campaign from her Senate campaign committee (i.e., funds raised last year). So when it comes to net primary cash-on-hand raised this quarter, Obama has a substantial edge - $19 million vs. $12.5 million.
Hillary padded her fund-raising total with almost $7 million that she can only spend in the general election. This might as well be Confederate currency for all the good it can do her during the primaries.
But the rout gets even more substantial as you probe the fine print.
* Hillary raised extensive contributions, certainly more than $1 million, from special-interest political-action committees (PACs) and lobbyists. Obama refused to tap this source of funding and even returned $50,000 he'd received from lobbyists.
* An estimated three-quarters of Clinton's donors have maxed out, (that is, given the legal maximum of $2,300 a person for during the primary), vs. with fewer than half of Obama's contributors, according to news reports. Most of his donors can keep giving; most of hers can't.
* Obama out-raised Clinton on the Web by 3:2. Internet money is especially valuable because it can be tapped repeatedly and quickly, as Howard Dean showed in '04.
* Hillary didn't list any expenditures for candidate travel, charter flights, makeup or hair. She may have rolled over this spending so as not to have to deplete her cash-on-hand showing.
Obama's success in assembling a cash juggernaut so early in a campaign that wasn't a gleam in anybody's eye seven months ago is extraordinary. Lacking the star power of a former president, with a far smaller list of past donors, and then running a distant second in the polls, he scored an amazing triumph.
But just as interesting is why Hillary failed to win this "first primary." Without the perks of the Lincoln bedroom, state dinners, pending legislation, plumb appointments, federal contracts and Air Force One flights, the Clintons seem to lack the goodies to bring in the donors. Just how much of their money was driven by these trappings of power is evident in their pedestrian first-quarter fund-raising record.
Obama's victory in the fund-raising derby may now be mirrored by a new poll spurt. CNN has the Hillary-Obama margin closing from 37 percent to 22 percent on March 9-11 to a bare 30-to-26 on April 10-12. The Rasmussen poll reflects a similar tightening from 34-29 on April 9 to a scant 32-30 on April 16.
In all, it's not a good time to be Hillary Rodham Clinton.