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Starting Gate: When September Ends

2264960The third quarter came to an end yesterday at midnight and as we wait for the fundraising totals to begin trickling out over the next few hours and days, here are a couple things to look for:

In the Democratic race, who will haul in the most cash, Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama? Nobody else is even in the same zip code as these two candidates who have gone dollar-for-dollar with one another all year long (both are expected to come in with some $20 million this quarter). Obama's campaign yesterday said the campaign has received 500,000 donations from more than 350,000 individuals. When does this kind of success translate into boots-on-the-ground votes?

John Edwards announced last week that his campaign will take federal matching funds come next year, something that relieves the pressure in the short term somewhat since he will now operate under campaign spending limits. Can another Democratic candidate make enough of a splash to break out of the bottom tier? Bill Richardson will report having raised about $5.2 million for the quarter – putting him at a total of over $18 million for the year. Not Clinton/Obama-type money but he appears to be gaining a measure of separation.

On the GOP side, Fred Thompson's numbers are likely to get the most attention. CBS News has learned that the campaign will report having raised over $8 million for the quarter. Rudy Giuliani and Mitt Romney are expected to have raised somewhere in the neighborhood of $10 million for the quarter but how much of his own fortune will Romney kick in this quarter?

Perhaps most interesting, has John McCain been able to recover from his campaign's near-fatal financial meltdown over the summer? Nobody has written the Arizona senator off yet and some sign of recovery could help fuel the "comeback" stories. Also, has Mike Huckabee been able to capitalize on his strong second-place showing in the Iowa straw poll? We won't get our hands on the actual reports until they're due on the 15th, but the spin starts in earnest today.

Obama Takes Iowa Lead? Michelle Obama last week ventured the opinion that her husband's chances of winning the nomination rest primarily in Iowa. The state is really ground zero in the Democratic race and every candidate is going all-out there. And for the first time, Obama appears to have emerged in the front of a tight three-way battle with Clinton and Edwards.

According to a new Newsweek poll, Obama is leading the field with 28 percent among likely Democratic caucus-goers. Clinton trails with 24 percent with Edwards at 22 percent. But, a new series of polls by the American Research Group has Clinton with large leads in all three of the early states, Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina.

Thompson's New Law And Order Of Things Thompson's approach to gay marriage is coming under scrutiny in Iowa, where the Des Moines Register reports: "His proposal to limit judges' power is unique among the 2008 GOP field and at odds with Iowa's Christian right, which sees a simple constitutional ban as a crucial litmus test." Thompson would like to bar judges in one state from recognizing judicial decisions in another on the issue. So far it's not passing legal muster, according to one constitutional law expert who tells the paper: "I would describe Thompson's statement as symbolic gibberish. It is, at best, a weak effort to cover his flanks."

Meanwhile, it Thompson failing to make the sale in Iowa? Morris Hurd of the Iowa Christian Alliance tells the Rocky Mountain News: "Skeptical is a word that also would describe our crowd here. I think we're skeptical - on all the issues. We don't know where he stands yet. We haven't seen him taking any strong stands yet."

Around The Track

  • Democrats picked Denver for their convention but some western leaders fear their eventual nominee might not be able to turn the region blue.
  • It's not all about Iowa. Obama does Sunday services in South Carolina.
  • Ted Kennedy, the Senate's Democratic lion, tells the AP that it's not easy picking a horse to back in this presidential race: "It's going to be difficult choosing. I've got a lot of friends who want to be president."
  • Al Gore had the "sigh," now Clinton has "the cackle?"
  • Newt Gingrich blames McCain-Feingold for keeping him out of the race: "The effect of the McCain-Feingold censorship act has been to weaken the middle class, to make it harder to have a middle-class candidate and to make it much, much harder to raise money and so I think you've got to be realistic about what it takes to campaign," he told Fox News Sunday. Of course, giving everyone else a nine-month head start doesn't help either.
  • The Swamp chronicles the 15 most buzz-worthy stories of September.
  • RNC chair Mel Martinez appears ready to step down as soon as a nominee is selected, according to the Miami Herald.