Pure Horserace: Second-Tier Surprises?

New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson speaks to reporters in Albuquerque, N.M., after returning from Sudan on Jan. 11, 2007. AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin

In yesterday's "Pure Horserace" we looked at the first-quarter fundraising totals for the big names in the race — save for Barack Obama, who will release his numbers on Wednesday, stretching out this story for yet another day. Today, though, let's examine fundraising totals for the second-tier candidates to see if any "sleepers" are on the verge of waking up.

Ever since a well-received speech at the Democratic National Committee's winter meeting, New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson has been viewed as the most likely candidate to break up the stranglehold Hillary Clinton, Obama and John Edwards have on the Democratic field. On Monday he reported raising $6 million — not exactly a surprise, but enough to keep him above the viability threshold.

Perhaps more significantly, Richardson reported having $5 million in the bank, indicating a low burn rate. This could change now that the New Mexico legislature is out of session, giving Richardson more time to campaign — but also more things to spend money on, including a two-day swing through New Hampshire starting Wednesday. Richardson may also benefit from a high-profile assignment as the leader of a delegation to North Korea, even though it will keep him off the campaign trail for a few days next week.

Hurt by this news may be Connecticut Sen. Chris Dodd, who along with Richardson was seen as someone who could surprise. Instead, Dodd came in behind Richardson with only $4 million raised, despite talk that his connections as chairman of the Senate Banking Committee would enable him to have a solid fourth-place finish.

On the Republican side, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee has long been seen as a dark horse who could make a serious bid: He's a southern governor, likeable in person and has a media-friendly personal story that includes a covenant marriage and shedding a lot of weight, literally, while in office.

But Huckabee's take in the first three months of 2007 was pretty meager: $500,000. In fact, his total was so low that it caused a spike in speculation that Huckabee will eventually abandon his presidential bid to challenge Democratic Sen. Mark Pryor in 2008. Yet even in a Senate race, Huckabee's fundraising wouldn't be considered overwhelming.

Bad Money, Even Worse Press: Arizona Sen. John McCain's $12.5 million haul in the first quarter is widely seen as a disappointment. But the campaign may also be concerned about a wave of bad press that for the past two weeks has surrounded the man who was the media darling of the 2000 race.

First there was the report in Beltway newspaper The Hill that McCain was considering abandoning the GOP in 2001 until a decision by former Vermont Sen. Jim Jeffords to align with Senate Democrats took away his leverage.

Then there was his claim that Gen. David Petraeus, who is leading U.S. operations in Iraq, regularly travels around the country in a non-armed Humvee. McCain followed up this statement with a trip this week to Baghdad in which he sought to prove that you could walk freely around the Iraqi capital. But news reports showed that McCain's trip through a market was anything but typical — he was flanked by 100 American soldiers and two Apache helicopters — and Iraqi merchants were quick to point out the security procedures in place that day were far from normal.

And today, in an interview with left-leaning blog MyDD.com that is already spreading online, John Kerry claims it was McCain's staff who suggested him as a vice presidential running mate for the 2004 Democratic nominee. "[H]is people… approached me to engage in a discussion about his potentially being on the ticket as Vice President," Kerry said.

Since the race began, McCain has been seen as having two major weaknesses: his support for President Bush on Iraq and doubts among conservatives as to his commitment to many of their core issues. Both have been emphasized by recent news, while one of his strengths, an air of inevitability, has been shattered by the latest fundraising reports.

Of course, many Republicans have also harbored suspicions about the senator's popularity among the media, so maybe a little bad press can be a good thing.

Is California Clinton Country? A new poll shows Clinton performing strongly in California, which has acquired new importance after moving its 2008 primary up to Feb. 5. A Field Poll showed Clinton enjoying the support of 41 percent of respondents — a higher percentage than seen in national polls.

The poll also gave Clinton a sizable lead over Obama, her chief rival. He scored 28 percent in the poll, while Edwards was in third with 13 percent. This result contrasts greatly with most national surveys, which have shown Clinton's lead over Obama slowly dwindling.

Clinton's lead plummets, however, when former Vice President Al Gore is added to the race. When the survey included him, Clinton had the support of 31 percent of respondents compared to 25 percent for Gore. Obama fell to 21 percent and Edwards to 8 percent.

The window of time in which the poll was taken — March 13 to 21 — is also worth noting. The survey ended one day before Edwards and his wife, Elizabeth, announced her cancer had returned and his campaign would continue.

Editor's Note: Pure Horserace is a daily update of political news as interpreted by the political observers at CBSNews.com. Click here to sign up for the e-mail version, coming soon to an in-box near you.

By David Miller
  • David Miller