It's official, Barack Obama has arrived as a political force. Not that there was much doubt remaining, but his campaign's fundraising figures, announced this morning, put an exclamation point on all the attention his presidential bid has gotten over the past three months.
Not only has Obama managed to nearly match Hillary Clinton's fundraising machine -- he raised some $25 million in the 1st quarter of this year, she took in $26 million – but when all the figures come in over the next couple weeks, it's a pretty safe bet he'll look even better.
Most of the heavyweight candidates are thinking about bypassing the federal financing system for the general campaign, which means they can raise money for both the primary and the general election, but money raised for the latter may not legally be spent on the former. Obama's campaign said that almost all of his haul is available for spending in the primary campaign season. Clinton's campaign has not disclosed how much it raised for the primary versus the general election.
Obama also has an impressive network of givers, especially considering he has not been a national political fixture for the past 15 years as Clinton has been. According to his campaign's announcement, Obama raised money from over 100,000 individuals, including 50,000 who gave online – as many as contributed to Clinton altogether.
At this point in the campaign – nearly a year before actual votes are cast – there are few ways to tangibly judge the state of these presidential campaigns. One way is through polls, where Obama has performed near the top of the field both nationally and in key states. Another is fundraising and this report solidifies him as a formidable force challenging Clinton's once-firm claim as the Democratic front-runner.
Of course, with high-water marks come high expectations. A just-released poll in New Hampshire has John Edwards replacing Obama in second place in that key state, with both within striking distance of Clinton. Not a problem for now, but with these fundraising numbers, Obama will increasingly be expected to be even more competitive in future polls, not to mention future fundraising reports.
Any perceived slippage will be over-analyzed and over-blown, that's the price of success. But those are worries for later, at the moment, Obama-mania has taken its place on center stage.