BIG RACE FOR SMALL DOLLARS. Solid reporting by Craig Gilbert of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel in this recent piece provides a preliminary answer to the question, Which Democratic presidential candidate is most effectively harvesting the small-dollar donor base? Answer: Hillary Clinton in terms of total dollars, but Russ Feingold in terms of the share raised from donations of less than $200.

Gilbert covers Feingold closer than almost any national beat reporter, and Feingold�s campaign finance filings caught his attention, especially this jump-off-the-page factoid: The Wisconsin senator has raised 62 percent of his $2 million so far this year in small-dollar increments. Clinton has actually raised more in small donations ($2.2 million) than Feingold�s total receipts, but they constitute just 18 percent of her $12 million raised so far in 2006.

Before the netroots chirp that Hillary just doesn�t get the power of small-dollar raising (online or otherwise), they might want to check the big disappointments when it comes to small-dollar receipts: Evan Bayh and stratospheric hearty-partier Mark Warner, who have raised less than one percent of their totals ($4.8 million and $2.4 million, respectively) from small donations.

Gilbert is careful to note that small-dollar fundraising is expensive. This is especially true when done by direct mail, which is why Clinton is raising a lot but spending a lot to raise it. She can afford the direct mailers� overhead, of course, allowing her to bleed her challengers. This may be why Bayh and Warner don�t seem to be bothering with the little donors, or at least have not emphasized them yet. Still, Feingold�s example shows that it can be done. If Feingold had Bayh�s big-donor capacity -- the Indiana senator has $11 million cash on hand, a figure that caught me by surprise, given how little media attention Bayh receives -- or vice versa, that would be a lethal fundraising combination.

For the moment, however, the only person with that dual capacity is Clinton. And the only person with the latent capacity, in my humble view, to match Clinton, small dollar-for-small dollar and large dollar-for-large dollar, is a certain summer blockbuster movie star.

--Tom Schaller