Will Pennsylvania Win Fill Clinton Purse?

To beat Obama's cash-rich campaign, Hillary calls for new donors. By late Apr. 23, 60,000 had heeded the call. But it will take many more
Joe Raedle/Getty Images

No sooner had she tallied up her do-or-die victory in the Pennsylvania primary than Senator Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.) went to work on the next critical problem in her quest to keep her campaign going: the daunting gap in fund-raising between her campaign and that of rival Senator Barack Obama (D-Ill.).

Just minutes into her victory speech in Philadelphia, Clinton made a plea to her supporters in the crowd—and the many more watching on TV—to head to her Web site and make a donation. "Tonight, more than ever, I need your help to continue this journey. We can only keep winning if we can keep competing with an opponent who outspends us so massively. So I hope you'll go to hillaryclinton.com and show your support tonight because the future of this campaign is in your hands."

Clinton's campaign advisers have clearly been counting on her victory to restock the till, and her Philadelphia plea appears to have paid off: according to Hassan Nemazee, the national finance chair for the Clinton campaign, by 2 p.m. on Wednesday the campaign had taken in $10 million—half of the $21 million it took in for the entire month of March. Just as important, he adds, many were new donors. More than 80% of the 60,000 who pledged had never given money to the Clinton campaign before.

Keeping It Flowing

The emphasis on money comes as no surprise: Heading into the critical primary, Clinton was in much weaker shape financially than Obama and she badly needs to refill her coffers. According to figures filed by the campaigns with the Federal Election Commission on Apr. 20, Clinton continues to have money problems. At the end of the month, her campaign was $10.3 million in debt, and she had only about $9 million in cash available to pay those primary bills. Over the course of the month the campaign spent $22.4 million. By contrast, Obama pulled in $42 million in March, and had $43 million available to spend on the upcoming primaries. His campaign recorded debts of just $662,000.

"No one ever drops out of a race because they're losing. They drop out because they run out of money; their donors and creditors tell them there's no more coming," says Charlie Cook, the editor and publisher of The Cook Political Report, a well-respected, nonpartisan, political newsletter. The issue looking ahead, he says, is whether Clinton's win came with a big enough margin to keep the money flowing for the upcoming rounds.

Nemazee argues that question has now been answered. "I can assure you the Clinton campaign will have sufficient resources to wage an aggressive campaign in each and every primary remaining," he says. "Senator Obama will not be able to buy his way to victory."

Big Donors Are Maxed Out

But if Clinton and her money-men are breathing easier today, their financial problems have hardly disappeared. One key challenge stems from the fact that a far larger share of Clinton's donors than Obama's have already given the maximum limit of $2,300; that means Team Clinton can't go back and hit them up for more. "She's heavily reliant on big donors and many of them are now maxed out," says Shiela Krumholz, the executive director of the Center for Responsive Politics, which tracks campaign finances.

Even if many have hit their limits, venture capitalist Alan Patricof, another of Clinton's national finance chairs, says plenty more haven't. "There are a lot of people who've given $1,000 or $1,500—if we just go back to that source of leads, there's still an enormous amount of money that can be raised," he says.

At the same time, Patricof, Nemazee, and the rest of Clinton's team of fund-raisers are scrambling to find new donors. Nemazee says he's turning to the donors who have given the maximum and asking them to dig deep into their Rolodexes to come up with the names of folks who haven't given anything to the campaign so far. "If they've exhausted their personal networks of family, friends, and business associates, we're asking them to reach outside of their geographic area, to think out of the box about what else they can do to get support to events," he says.

Clinton's fund-raisers have also been revving up their Internet efforts and trying to turn up more small donors. They're contacting many of the tens of thousands of supporters who attended events or gave their e-mail addresses at events in earlier primary states such as Texas or Ohio, for example, and trying to tap them for donations. "We're constantly trying to reach out to those supporters and get them to contribute, even if it's only $10, $20, or $100," Nemazee says. And to turn up the heat on donations, Clinton is turning on the charm: Whereas in the past she would get on the phone and participate in conference calls only with donors who'd given $25,000 or more, now anyone who has given $100 or more is invited onto the squawk with the senator.

Needs $20 Million a Month

While those efforts seem to be succeeding, Krumholz says the question is how sustainable they are, particularly in comparison with Obama's strong Web fund-raising machine. "He's been successful over so many more months, and with many more donors, in this arena," she says. Another key issue is whether they can keep up the pace. "She's going to need to keep spending at a clip of $20 million a month," says Tad Devine, a Democratic strategist unallied with either candidate. "That's not an easy amount to raise."

Donors will have to assess whether the win gives Clinton enough momentum to have a realistic chance of winning the nomination, given the difficult math she still faces. Clinton remains behind in both the popular vote count and the delegate count, and many believe she has only a slim chance of convincing enough superdelegates to back her.

"People are reluctant to throw money at a losing campaign, which we've clearly seen in the funding numbers in the last few weeks," says Greg Valliere, the chief political analyst for the Washington investment research firm Stanford Group. "But if people come out of Pennsylvania concluding she still has a shot, then they'll continue to see it as money well spent."

Nemazee says that, for now, the threat of being seen as a loser has not materialized. "Conventional wisdom would tell you that if people were throwing in the towel and thought we had no chance to win, they wouldn't go out of their way to keep raising money for us," he says. "But we are clearly able to find people who think we can win."