Ask Bill Burton, a spokesman for Sen. Barack Obama, how much money the Illinois Democrat will raise for his presidential race in the first three months of this year and he’ll tell you $8 to $10 million.
Peruse an invite for Obama’s fundraising event in New York City tomorrow night, however, and you get an entirely different picture of the Illinois Senator’s financial ceiling. Fourteen individuals or couples are listed as “chairs” meaning, according to the invitation obtained by The Fix, that they have committed to raise $100,000 for Obama. Another 13 individuals and/or couples are listed as “hosts” — a designation that requires raising $50,000. Sixteen are “co-hosts”, which means they are committed to raise $25,000 each for Obama.
Add just those numbers up and Obama’s take from the event tomorrow night is nearly $2.5 million. Of course overhead costs and other expenses mean he won’t net that amount, but he is likely to walk away from the fundraiser with $2 million or more. (It’s worth noting, and The Fix should have done so in our original post,that the “chairs,” “hosts,” and “co-hosts” have a year to raise the money. But still.)
By Burton’s calculation that means Obama — in one night — has collected between 20 and 25 percent of what he will raise for the entire quarter.
Welcome to the expectations game where each of the competing Democratic presidential campaigns seeks to pump up their rival’s fundraising potential while downplaying their own ability to collect cash. All of this behind-the-scenes spinning is aimed at ensuring that when the first quarter fundraising numbers do become public (sometime between March 31 and April 15) it’s your candidate who surprises and your rivals who disappoint.
Obama is not alone in this game. Aides to Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton say their goal is to raise $15 million between Jan. 1 and March 31. Why $15 million? Because that would be double what then Sen. John Edwards (D-N.C.) collected in the first quarter of 2003. With giving limits doubled, they argue, it stands to reason that $15 million would be a worthy fundraising quarter.
Except that no one — including Clinton’s confidantes — believe that she will raise just $15 million or that if she did it would lead the field. Informed speculation pegs Clinton’s final number at somewhere between $20 and $30 million.
An aide to a rival candidate who was granted anonymity to speak candidly about the money chase offered this gem when asked about Clinton’s fundraising potential in the first three months of the year: “It’s kind of like obscenity — you know it when you see it, which to me means 40 to 50 million.”
Of course, that quote typifies the expectations game.
So, what to make of Edwards in all of this? He was the clear winner of the expectations game in 2003, wowing observes by collecting nearly $7.5 million. This time around, as Jeanne Cummings wrote recently in the Politico, Edwards’ campaign has been the least willing to openly discuss its fundraising target or the men and women tasked with reaching it.
Edwards is also the candidate with the most riding on his financial performance in the first quarter. If Edwards can stay within $5 million of Obama or Clinton (or both) it solidifies his presence in the first tier of Democratic challengers. If, on the other hand, Ewards’ finds himself in a distant third in the fundraising chase, it raises the likelihood that the race for the Democratic nomination will be cast as a two-person affair.