Clinton's Number Is Good And Won't Be Seen As Good Enough

Here it is: Sen. Hillary Clinton's campaign raised a record-setting $26 million  for her presidential campaign in the first three months of a year, an impressive feat that may nonetheless be overshadowed in the next few days by news that Sen. Barack Obama managed to keep pace.

That Drudge headline: HRC "blows the field away" with $36 million -- refers to the  $26M and also the $11M she transferred in. The "real" number is $26M. And that's not even the "real" real number, because a campaign spokesman said he was not able to say how much of that total was raised for use in the general election campaign. It's too early for that; the compliance figures are still coming in. We'll know on 4/15.

Said Patti Solis Doyle, Clinton's campaign manager, on a conference call: "As you can imagine, the interest in our first quarter fundraising has been tremendous. ... I;'m very proud to give you some preliminary numbers.... [but] we're still tabulating. We are completely overwhelmed and gratified by the historic support that we've gotten thus far."

Solis Doyle said the Clinton campaign "set a goal" of $15M -- and "I'm proud to say that we have dramatically exceeded our goals and expectations. In the last 10 weeks alone, we raised $26 million dollars."

The campaign was "pleased, proud, gratified" especially at the "tens of thousands of new donors" who gave.

So -- a good number?  Yes, but really, not so much.

To their credit, not one official Clinton source led us to believe that they would raise more than $30 million. And, as we said, $26 million is a record for Democrats during a single primary quarter. And, all twittering aside, raising money in a crowded field, even when you're the 140 pound gorilla, is not the easiest thing in the world. 

Like many other metrics, the number can't be isolated from its context. Some Clinton supporters will crap bricks when they learn that Sen. Barack Obama raised more than $21 million dollars -- maybe more.  Obama's spokesman, Robert Gibbs, declined to confirm that fact, but other Dem fundraisers who talk regularly with Obama's fundraisers say that Obama's sum will come close to Clinton's sum -- at least for the money raised into primary accounts.

Others will worry that $26M is as good as it gets for Clinton, especially since high dollar fundraising tends to drop off after the first quarter. For the rest of the year, Clinton will rely more and more on aggressive and costly direct mail, low dollar events, and internet appeals.

Leaking the $36M number to Drudge was purely tactical -- this way, Clinton's team makes certain that the $36M number is what the chattering class sees first. Getting ahead of the story and all these things, as Arnold Schwarzenegger would say. It'll take some time for the media to report the real number, which is $26M minus the general election cash.  (make no mistake: cash on hand matters, too, and Clinton has a clear and distinct advantage here). 

Gibbs, contacted as he was about to board a plane, wouldn't ballpark Obama's totals for us, so we're relying on other sources with less direct knowledge say. Still, more than $20M from scratch is, and will be, huge.

Some unanswered questions:

How much of HRC's money came from major donors? Are there big donors left to tap? Did her internet fundraising bear fruit?  How will this be spun internally? Does Bill Clinton thing this number is good?