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IN TURNABOUT, DEMOCRATS LEAD IN CAMPAIGN DONATIONS

Successful fundraising doesn't guarantee votes.

After years of being outspent in presidential races, the top Democratic candidates in this election are collecting as much or more campaign cash than their leading Republican rivals, according to data released Friday.

The top Democratic finishers in this week's Florida primary, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, raised $6.2-million and $3.6-million respectively during 2007 in Florida, according to new figures from the Federal Election Commission.

That compares to $2.3-million for John McCain and $3.7-million for Mitt Romney, the top two finishers on the Republican side. The most successful Republican fundraiser in Florida was former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, who raked in $5-million in Florida, but finished third in the voting and has since dropped out.

The national trend looks even worse for Republicans. Clinton and Obama were the biggest fundraisers of 2007, raising $115-million and $102-million, respectively. The closest Republican was Mitt Romney, with $88-million, but a significant portion of that came from his personal fortune. Giuliani raised $60-million and John McCain, now considered the GOP frontrunner, raised $41-million last year, less even than John Edwards, who dropped out of the Democratic race.

The numbers show Democratic candidates reaped bushels of cash in Florida, even though they agreed not to campaign here because the state moved its primary election earlier than national party rules permitted.

And Florida Obama chairman Kirk Wagar said he believes his candidate's financial strength is underestimated, because the reporting mechanism does not require listing the donations under $200.

"At least through the third quarter, 25 percent of our money was in donations under $200," Wagar said. And since then, "I have every confidence that the percentage has increased."

The Obama campaign this week announced it had raised $32-million nationwide in January, better than $1-million a day.

Federal data analyzed by the St. Petersburg Times showed Obama outraised Clinton $790,429 to $416,784 in the Tampa Bay area last year. He also raised more money than other Democrats in the areas around Gainesville, Jacksonville and Tallahassee.

But Clinton outraised him in South Florida and in the Fort Myers, Orlando, Panama City and Pensacola regions.

John Edwards, who dropped out of the Democratic race, raised $1.4-million over the year and did not outraise any of his rivals.

Among Republican candidates, Giuliani proved the most successful fundraiser in the Tampa Bay area, as well as in South Florida and the Orlando area. Giuliani's $832,170 from the Tampa Bay area was more than double the $385,629 collected by Romney last year.

Romney proved the best GOP fundraiser in the areas surrounding Gainesville, Jacksonville and Panama City. He also has supplemented his campaign by adding some $35-million of his own money.

But money isn't everything. McCain, who won Florida's GOP primary, was the top fundraiser in only one region of the state in 2007, the relatively small market of Tallahassee. And in the final three months of the year, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee outraised him there.

Now that the Florida primary is over and candidates Edwards and Giuliani are out, the other campaigns are scrambling to win over their financial backers.

"I'm an Obama guy,'' declared Mitchell Berger, Edwards' Florida finance chairman. "John Edwards and Barack Obama both perceive many of the fundamental problems to be the same."

McCain appeared to be picking up the vast majority of Giuliani's supporters, including Joseph Fogg of Naples, Giuliani's Florida finance chairman; and Dan and Harry Sargeant, two of Gov. Charlie Crist's top financiers from South Florida.

Brian Ballard, a Tallahassee lobbyist and top McCain fundraiser, said the challenge has been to reel in all the enthusiasm with such a small Florida campaign organization for McCain.

"It's like drinking from a fire hose,'' Ballard said. "We've got to go from an organization that pretty much survived hand to mouth to an organization that's reflective of the presumptive nominee of the party.''

Tampa developer Al Austin, who had backed Giuliani, said he is close to finding a new candidate. His wife had urged him to back McCain early on, but McCain looked doomed last summer. "I'm getting a little pressure so I've got to sort it all out,'' Austin said.

Pensacola trial lawyer Fred Levin, a strong Edwards backer, said he has heard from the Obama campaign, but can't muster much enthusiasm for any of the candidates of either party.

"I would hope that after Super Tuesday, Michael Bloomberg would see that he is probably the best answer for this country,'' Levin said of the New York mayor being courted to run as an independent candidate. "He would have no obligation to anyone and the economy is the issue."

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