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Race to the Bottom Line

The expectations game for presidential fundraising shifted into high gear today, with the two leading Democrats trying to persuade reporters that they would lose the battle for top of the money heap when they close their books at the end of this month.

An aide to Hillary Clinton said today he expected the campaign to finish the third quarter of fundraising, which covers the three months ending Sept. 30, with a total of between $17 million and $20 million overall. That would make it a relatively slow quarter for a campaign that has amassed more than $60 million in contributions during the previous two quarters. Clinton insiders also tried to float the idea that rival Barack Obama would finish with significantly more -- perhaps as much as $30 million, though this was meant to be more of a guess than anything else.

When these numbers first surfaced on ABC's website earlier today, Obama supporters began calling around to reject the assessment, predicting that the numbers would be flipped -- with Obama taking in just under $20 million and Clinton collecting a big haul.

Why are the campaigns so keen on declaring themselves the likely money loser? It's all about expectations. If they start conditioning people now to prepare for slow summer fundraising numbers, the impact of a low number will be minimized. And if they actually produce a large dollar figure on Sept. 30, the surprise of the announcement could, in theory, help transform an incremental development into a big headline.

In the end, though, expectation setting will only take the candidates so far. And given the breakneck pace of fundraising events unfolding this week, both Clinton and Obama appear to be very much aware of that.

--Matthew Mosk

Posted at 6:09 PM ET on Sep 25, 2007
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