Story Highlights• Sen. Clinton and Sen. Obama's fundraising puts them in a tier by themselves
• Obama raised his money with twice as many donors and smaller amounts
• Obama may be more able to raise funds in the future than Clinton
By Bill Schneider
CNN Senior Political Analyst
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- What do the first-quarter fundraising totals tell us about the Democratic race?
It's still early in the game, but the first-quarter results give us some important clues about how the Democratic race is shaping up and show us that New York Sen. Hillary Clinton, with $26 million raised, and Illinois Sen. Barack Obama, with $25 million raised, are in a class by themselves.
By nearly matching Clinton in total contributions, Obama proved his campaign is no pick-up team. (Interactive: Campaign finance totals)
Obama argues money follows message: "Sometimes it's the candidate who raises the most money," he said, "but a lot of times it's the candidates with the best message, and the money follows."
Obama has a strong anti-war message, but he also appeals to a longing for unity in the country. That's a rare combination, and it seems to be working. (Watch how Obama raised money online )
The Clinton campaign's response? "We are thrilled with our historic fundraising success," says Clinton campaign manager Patti Solice Doyle, "and congratulate Sen. Obama and the entire Democratic field on their fundraising, which demonstrates the overwhelming desire for change in our country.''
The first quarter tends to be easy picking for fundraisers. The second quarter is when it gets tough. You need to show sustainability. (Watch how Obama's $25 million changes the race )
Obama looks well-positioned to do that. His contributions came from twice as many individuals as Clinton's did, and in smaller amounts. He can go back to them for more.
But Clinton has some advantages, too. "He [Obama] is trying to energize a group of people who don't necessarily always participate in the process but who are hungry for something different," says Dan Balz, a reporter for The Washington Post. "I think she is going more for what you would call the core Democratic constituencies, who often have been instrumental in helping someone win a nomination."
And she has a powerful weapon when it comes to raising money: her husband, former President Bill Clinton.
Other Democrats did respectably in first-quarter fundraising, and they point out that money doesn't decide the outcome of elections. "Money isn't going to vote," said New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson, who raised $6 million for his campaign. "Voters are going to vote."
But candidates will need a lot more up-front money to compete in all those big states that are voting earlier than ever next year. And if they're not accepting public financing, they have to raise it all themselves. Not to mention, the candidate who raises the most money doesn't necessarily win the nomination. Ask Howard Dean, who raised more money than any other Democrat in 2003.
However, you need enough money to cross the threshold of credibility -- to get your name known and your message out. So what's different for 2008? "I think the difference this time around is that the threshold seems to be much, much higher than it has in the past," Balz says.
It's like the radio comedian Fred Allen once said: "There are many things in life that are more important than money. And they all cost money.''
New York Sen. Hillary Clinton is leading her rivals for the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination in the polls, and she was top fundraiser in the first quarter of 2007.
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