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Obama, unbuckled

| Sunday, April 8, 2007

Former first lady Sen. Hillary Clinton's campaign of inevitability lost its mojo when Sen. Barack Obama's campaign released its first-quarter fundraising numbers.

All of a sudden math became a lot more interesting.

Obama raised upward of $25 million for his presidential campaign in the first quarter of the year, not only matching Clinton's record-setting total but, technically, besting it. (Obama can use $23.5 million of the total money raised for primary contests; Clinton has designated less but has not yet specified an amount.)

Obama's numbers are just plain staggering and incredibly problematic, especially for Clinton. Obama's 100,000 individual donors are twice Clinton's and three times those of Edwards.

"This turns a competitive race into a death match for financial support," said Democrat political strategist John Lapp.

"It's hard to imagine there being a lot of oxygen in the room beyond the front-runners," he added. "Bottom line, this is good news for Democrats; Democratic grassroots, netroots and cash-roots are energized like never before."

And those 100,000 contributors for Obama are small-donor, real-grassroots support. They aren't millionaires. They aren't the David Geffens-George Soroses of the world. These are people who can give a hundred dollars or less. Again and again.

It may not be showing up in polls just yet. But the people who pay the most attention -- the activists, the super-hyper-progressive bloggers who give money and encourage their friends to give money -- certainly are gravitating toward Obama.

That gravitational effect usually is delayed in getting over to the larger Democrat population.

So why was Obama so successful• A lot of it is his presence but a lot more is good, old-fashioned strategy.

David Axelrod, the man behind Obama, understands how the campaign has to organize on the precinct level while also tapping into the national level. In short, "think locally, act globally" is a key element of the Obama campaign.

On the ground, Obama's people have shied away from the failures of the Dean strategy, which shuttled busloads of people from event to event, setting up an arena rock-type stage. They understand momentum must be converted into caucus and primary votes.

So far, Team Clinton has run a campaign that has a machine-crushing, establishment-monster aspect. It's run very conventionally, steamrolling through inevitability, which is why the YouTube Apple ad, with Hillary as a latter-day Big Brother, was so effective.

Right now it is the crossroads for Clinton: Does she tighten the screws on wayward Democrats• Will you see political intimidation come out of Camp Clinton• Or does Obama's financial strength turn the page?

The key right now for Clinton is to try to drag Obama into an alley for a street fight of charge and countercharge. The effect would be raising the negatives on both candidates so that Obama is not the shiny-star, pro-ideological candidate he has been so far.

For many Democrats Obama is inspiring; for others he represents the second coming of JFK. Still others just say he has "it." Whatever "it" is, "it" is problematic for the rest of the field because there is just no more oxygen left in the room.

So throw inevitability out with the establishment and let us welcome Sen. Obama to the high altitudes in the race for the Democrats' nomination for president. Thanks to his audacity and stunning individual donor numbers, he now is free to unbuckle his seat belt and move about the country.

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