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Hillary's War Chest

Hillary Rodham Clinton

is waiting in the wings with 13 million reasons to smile. As the junior Senator from New York calls and meets longtime supporters to test the waters for a presidential run, she is already drowning in campaign cash.

In the month since Election Day, a parade of Presidential hopefuls (not including Sen. Clinton) have begun trekking to the early battlegrounds of Iowa and New Hampshire, announcing their intentions to seek the White House, and filing papers with the Federal Election Commission in Washington to establish fundraising committees.

Senator Clinton, reelected in November to a second term by a whopping 67% of her constituents, has yet to officially green light a 2008 race. But Federal Election Commission papers quietly filed with the Secretary of the Senate last week reveal how much of a fundraising edge she would have over rivals for the Democratic presidential nomination.

Mrs. Clinton ends 2006 with $13,145,637 in her campaign war chest. That's the $14,369,100 cash on hand in her Friends of Hillary account minus $1,234,463 in debts.

Because her senate campaign fund was for a federal office, the balance is legally convertible to a presidential campaign committee. Funds from political action committees, or PACs, even those set up by presidential hopefuls, are not convertible. So, for example, Illinois Senator Barack Obama's $755,000 in his senate coffers is convertible to a White House run, but the $810,000 in his Hopefund, Inc. PAC is not.

Overall, during her senate reelection campaign, Senator Clinton raised $50 million and spent $37 million, even though compared to 2000, it was a cakewalk.

Remember, six years ago, Mrs. Clinton was a First Lady untested as a candidate in her own right, dropped stakes with the former President in a white house in Westchester, was accused of "carpetbagging" into a blue state, and visited all 62 counties to listen to voters' concerns.

She won the job by outlasting two seasoned Republicans: pre-9/11-heroics Rudy Giuliani, the former New York City mayor who quit the race due to his prostate cancer, and then Replacement Rick, former Congressman Lazio of Long Island, who mustered only 43% of the vote to Clinton's 55%. Still, the Giuliani-Lazio tandem outspent Clinton two to one, a combined $60 million to her $30 million.

"We began this campaign not knowing who she would face, but you have to assume a hard-charging campaign," Friends of Hillary communications director Ann Lewis told us when we first examined the campaign's spending. "We had to prepare for a multimillion dollar negative campaign, and that does not even count the independent committees," Lewis said. (Other than the silly suggestion by challenger John Spencer that Sen. Clinton underwent plastic surgery, the feared negative campaign against her never really materialized.)

Despite her obfuscation on 2008 questions and ducking in debates whether she'd pledge to serve a full six-year term, Senator Clinton's campaign spending told a clearer story.

When she publicly launched her reelection bid at the state Democratic convention in May, she had already spent $20 million, and that was when she was yet to produce a TV ad or have an opponent.

Our review of her itemized campaign expenditures found her campaign had spent two-thirds of its funds on direct mail, telemarketing, fundraising events, and travel – in other words, building a national infrastructure of donors. The senator now has more than 250,000 donors in her database. And they can all give to her again for 2008, even after the leftover Senate money is transferred.

As this year's campaign wore on, the Clinton campaign spent more heavily on TV ads, targeted mailings, regional offices, and getting out the vote. About one-fifth of her dollars were spent just to keep her political shop running – more than a dozen consultants, a political staff of more than 30, and Senate staffers getting paid extra to work for the campaign. Staff has been reduced since the campaign ended.

Spokeswoman Lewis now says plans for the leftover $13 million rest with the Senator and her decision on 2008.

The other White House hopeful with convertible double-digit millions is Indiana Democrat Evan Bayh, with a comfortable $10.5 million sitting in his U.S. Senate account, which has grown by $4 million since winning a third term in 2004.

Massachusetts Senator John Kerry, who is considering the Democratic race, still has more than $13 million cash on hand, a good chunk leftover from his losing effort in 2004. 1988-also ran Joe Biden, the Delaware Senator, has $3 million in his senate account, while Connecticut Senator Chris Dodd has close to $2 million.

On the Republican side, frontrunning Arizona Senator John McCain has $1 million in his senate account. Kansas Senator Sam Brownback, who has also registered an exploratory committees with the FEC, has $600,000.

The rest of the field, including Giuliani, former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, former Iowa Governor Tom Vilsack, and potentially, former North Carolina Senator John Edwards and New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson – would be starting from scratch.

When it comes to campaign cash, the 2008 hopefuls have a lot of catching up to do with Clinton.

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