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Clinton rolls; Thompson catching up

Democratic presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton has converted her months-long lead in the polls into fundraising momentum, another sign that she seems headed for her party's nomination.

But the big splash Fred Thompson made last month when he belatedly entered the race on the Republican side hasn't translated into an advantage in campaign cash.

Those are the take-home messages from the third-quarter campaign finance reports released by the candidates last week.

Clinton, the former first lady-turned-senator from New York, raised $27 million in July, August and September, her strongest quarter of the year.

On the other hand, Illinois Sen. Barack Obama, her closest rival, raised $20 million during the third quarter, down from $32.5 million during April, May and June.

With Clinton already leading in the polls, the financial numbers merely add to the evidence that her candidacy is gaining steam, said Merle Black, a political science professor at Emory University.

"She's consolidating her strength as the Democratic front-runner," he said. "I'd suspect she's going to do even better as we get closer to the election."

The way the Democratic presidential race appears to be playing out might seem surprising considering where Obama was positioned just a few months ago, a rock star of a candidate pushing a message of change in a country that showed it wanted something different by putting Democrats in charge of Congress.

Obama wants to "turn the page," a phrase he repeats often in his stump speech. To some voters, that represents not only turning away from the Bush administration but from the Clinton era before it.

But Gordon Giffin, a prominent Atlanta lawyer and Clinton supporter, said many voters look back to the 1990s, when Bill and Hillary Clinton were in the White House, with a sense of nostalgia for less troubled times.

"We had a balanced budget. We weren't at war with anybody," said Giffin, who served as U.S. ambassador to Canada during the Clinton administration. "She would be a change from what we've had the last seven years."

Hillary Clinton's standing in the Democratic contest also might surprise those voters whose visceral hatred of the Clintons inspires them to plaster "Anybody but Clinton" bumper stickers on their cars.

There are a lot of Hillary haters out there, enough that some political pundits wonder how the Democrats could be dumb enough to nominate someone so polarizing.

But Giffin said he's not convinced that those anti-Hillary voters aren't simply anti-Democrat.

"The segment of the electorate that's not going to vote for a Democrat has crystallized with her because she's been on the national stage for some time," he said. "It's not necessarily any larger than for any other Democratic candidate."

Black agreed that most anti-Hillary sentiment can be found in states that Democrats aren't likely to win anyway.

"She doesn't have to win states where her negatives outweigh her positives," he said. "She would be still be a strong candidate in the Northeast, on the West Coast and in the Midwest."

That leaves the South, the Great Plains and the Mountain states as both Republican strongholds and likely friendly turf for conservative former Tennessee Sen. Fred Thompson.

The popular actor from TV's "Law and Order" series made his long-anticipated candidacy for the GOP nomination official just after Labor Day.

But thus far, his fundraising hasn't kept up with his appeal in the polls.

Thompson, who was taking in campaign contributions long before his formal entry into the race, raised about $9 million during the third quarter.

That put him behind former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, who raised $11 million, and ex-Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, who raised $10 million in donations and kicked in another $8.5 million of his own money.

There's not a huge difference between those numbers, but Thompson trails Giuliani substantially when it comes to cash on hand.

After getting off to a much earlier start, Giuliani has $16 million left in his campaign account, compared to just $7 million for Thompson and $9 million for Romney.

"(Thompson) still needs a lot more money," Black said. "He hasn't come in and dramatically changed the field."

But Georgia Sen. Chip Rogers, executive director of Thompson's Georgia campaign, said his candidate's numbers are stellar for someone who just got into the race.

"If you look at the number of contributors and the amount collected per day, we're far beyond any of the other Republican candidates," said Rogers, R-Woodstock. "Everything is going according to plan."

Rogers said he expects Thompson will pick up more donors as second-tier conservatives now in the race drop out.

E-mail Dave Williams at dave.williams@gwinnettdailypost.com.