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If money talks in US presidential politics, Sen. Barack Obama has 25 million reasons why skeptical Democrats should start to listen.
The US$25 million (â‚¬18.72 million) in campaign contributions the Illinois Democrat reported collecting in the first three months of this year was just US$1 million (â‚¬750,000) less than rival Hillary Rodham Clinton's record haul and was a remarkable feat for a novice in national politics.
"He was the newcomer, he was the outsider, and this shows he's a serious candidate," said Ron Parker, a Democratic strategist in Iowa, home of the nation's first nominating caucuses. "It shows he can do a lot more than draw big crowds."
Fundraising by Clinton and Obama, combined with healthy donations to their party rivals, helped Democratic presidential candidates out-raise Republicans US$80 million (â‚¬60 million) to US$40 million (â‚¬30 million), a surprising role reversal for the usually well-funded party.
"That should send a pretty clear signal that people are looking for a change," said another Iowa Democratic activist, Carl Grover. While he has not donated money to Obama, Grover said, "I'm definitely thinking about it."
Obama backers also were cheering the fact that US$23.5 million (â‚¬17.6 million) of the $25 million (â‚¬18.72 million) they raised is targeted at what is shaping up to be a competitive primary fight. Clinton has not disclosed how much of her money is targeted at the primary and how much must be held for general election use, should the New York senator be the nominee.
Obama told The Associated Press on Wednesday that his fundraising reflects the growing enthusiasm for his bid.
"It indicates that people are really engaged and enthusiastic, and the crowds we've been attracting, I think, are indicative of a broad base of support across the country," Obama said just before speaking to a raucous crowd of more than 2,500 at a community college.
Asked if the financial disclosures left the fight for the Democratic nomination between Clinton and himself, Obama demurred.
"It's way too early," he said, but added: "We're proud of the fact that we were able to do this without any money from federal lobbyists or PACs (political action committees)," referring to groups formed to raise and contribute money to candidates' campaigns likely to advance the groups' interests.
Obama wrote in an e-mail to supporters that Wednesday's fundraising report was "an unmistakable message to the political establishment in Washington about the power and seriousness of our challenge."
Most polls have shown Obama running second behind Clinton for their party's nomination. Former Sen. John Edwards, generally considered the third top-tier Democratic candidate, posted a US$14 million (â‚¬10.5 million) campaign report.
In Iowa, which is nearly overrun this spring by Republicans and Democrats seeking traction in their campaigns, Obama's money report - it said 100,000 people had donated - was the buzz of a large and noisy crowd of political activists.
"The fact that he had twice as many contributors as Clinton is important," said Dan Courtney, of Mason City. "I think it shows he's a viable candidate."
Democratic strategist Joe Shanahan was impressed too, but only up to a point. "It's a big number," he said, "but it's April and there's plenty of time for people to stumble and things could change."