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There are numbers, then there are real numbers

October 1, 2007 |  1:50 pm

Over the next few days, the campaigns will be releasing their third-quarter fundraising numbers, and doing their best to make them shine.

This morning, Barack Obama said he had raised $20 million in the third quarter, $19 million of it for the primaries.  Bill Richardson last night said he had raised $5.2 million.  On the Republican side, Fred Thompson reportedly drew $8 million in his first official reporting period.  The other numbers will be filtering out.  Ron Paul's website, for instance, claims the low-budget campaign raised $1 million in the last seven days, which should keep him in the race a while longer.

Key, though, is how much cash the campaigns have on hand, which is a number we may not get until the Sept. 30 quarterly reports are filed Oct. 15.  As John McCain showed earlier this year, raising a whole bunch of cash doesn't do all that much good if you spend it as soon as you raise it.  And, of course, the tough and expensive politicking is yet to come in the next three months.

But while we're all looking at the numbers with dollar signs in front of them, we should also pay attention to the ones with percentage signs after them.  And there, national disconnect is clear among the Republcain contenders.

The Real Clear Politics site aggregates the candidates' ...

national poll numbers as follows: Rudy Giuliani at 27.8%, Thompson at 22.4%, McCain at 14.1% and Mitt Romney at 9%.  But in Iowa, RCP's average shows Romney at 26%, Giuliani at 16.8%, Thompson at 15.3% and McCain edging Mike Huckabee 8.3% to 8%.  In New Hampshire, it's Romney again with 26.4%, Giuliani at 22.4%, McCain at 15.2% and Thompson at 11.8%.

So while Giuliani leads in the national polls, Romney leads in the two most crucial early primary and caucus states (he leads in Nevada, too, but trails badly in South Carolina and Florida).  And, of course, that sets Romney up for two scenarios.  Since he's leading in those crucial states, if he fails to hold it he's going to have trouble going into the Feb. 5 roundup of primaries and caucuses.  But if he holds, he could position himself for a free media bump and a rocket ride.

On the Democratic side, Hillary Clinton leads the aggregate national polls with 41.2% to 23% for Obama, followed by John Edwards at 14% and Bill Richardson at 3.2%.  But in Iowa, it's a scrum at the top, with Clinton at 26.5%, Obama at 23%, Edwards (who at one time led there) at 21.5% and Richardson at 10.8%.

For the rest of the early states, Clinton's lead reflects the national polls, though some of the races are a little tighter.  In New Hampshire, Clinton holds a 20.8% lead, but in Nevada she's down to a 14-percentage-point margin, with a 13-percentage-point lead in South Carolina.

All of which largely reinforces something that has been clear for a while -- the Republican race for the nomination has yet to settle into a clear narrative, while on the Democratic side the story for the next three months will be whether Clinton makes any uncharacteristic mistakes and/or if any of the other candidates can gain enough traction to catch up to the former first lady and senator from New York.  So far, they've been unable to do that.

-- Scott Martelle