Candidates campaign, raise millions

WASHINGTON – You can buy a lot for $25 million.

If you are Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois, the $25 million you raised in the last three months has already bought you a co-favorite’s perch atop the Democratic presidential field. Experts say it could also buy you all the commercial airtime on any television station in Des Moines, Iowa, along with a block of rooms at the Radisson Hotel Manchester in New Hampshire, from now through January.

Or, thanks to a big sale on, 1.8 million copies of your book “The Audacity of Hope” to hand out along the trail.

If you are not running for president, the flurry of record fundraising reports this week – cresting to a cool $130 million for the Democratic and Republican candidates combined and capped by Obama’s announcement on yesterday – may have left you feeling like you’d fallen asleep in a Monopoly marathon.

Here’s some perspective that candidates and voters alike can appreciate.

– Sen. Hillary Clinton’s, D-N.Y., chart-topping $26 million could buy a year of basic health coverage for nearly 22,000 uninsured children in New York, based on estimates by the National Association of Health Underwriters.

– Obama could back up his calls for renewable energy by building more than 300 new E85 (ethanol-gasoline mix) fueling stations – currently, he has said, there are only 500 such stations in the country – or by giving a hybrid Toyota Prius to everyone in Oprah Winfrey’s studio audience for four straight days.

– With his $14 million, former Sen. John Edwards, D-N.C., could fund nearly 3,500 maximum-award Pell Grants for college students. Or he could foot a full year of tuition and fees for more than 2,700 freshmen at North Carolina State University, his undergraduate alma mater.

– Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., just back from Iraq, could buy top-flight new body armor for American troops there. It’s tough to say how many of the Improved Outer Tactical Vests McCain could afford, because the Army hasn’t released their price yet, but press reports suggest he could probably score at least 12,000 suits of the old model.

Even big money has its limits. The $15 million raised by Rudolph Giuliani, the Republican former mayor of New York City, could only build five miles of a planned U.S.-Mexican border fence, congressional estimates suggest. Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney’s $21 million wouldn’t make for much of a tax break: about $8 and change for every taxpayer in his home state, which isn’t enough for a standing-room ticket to Fenway Park.

Of course, donors had politics in mind when they broke out the checkbooks or the PayPal last month. They wanted to help candidates hire staff and fund ads, particularly with a multistate super primary looming next Feb. 5 that will test even the richest of campaigns.

The campaign largess has some in Washington eyeing attempts to reign in some campaign spending. That includes Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., who introduced a bill last month to publicly finance Senate races.

Others see no problem. John Samples, an analyst at the Cato Institute, said more money shows the country is getting wealthier and the presidential election more competitive. “Both of those strike me as good things,” he said.