Temper, Temper, Temper

I am impressed that Obama has created a donor base of 258,000 Americans and I look with awe on the amount of money a neo-candidate managed to raise this quarter. It's quite a political accomplishment.

But with every superlative, there is tempering.

Money is a single metric. At this point, it's the most available of several other metrics to us political journalists, and so there is a tendency to interpret every other metric in light of one, rather than to try to interpert them in their contexts.

The others include fairly reliable polling in New Hampshire, fairly unreliable polling in Iowa (owing to the difficulty of polling likely caucus goers and projecting the 40% or so who will caucus for the first time), diverging polls in South Carolina, and a slate of fairly consistent national surveys. Also -- endorsements -- quality and quantity.

Many reporters expected Barack Obama to outraise Hillary. For some reason, those same reporters are now expressing surprise at Obama's haul and once again re-writing recent history: "Hillary's inevitability is lost" -- (Wasn't it lost the moment Obama got in?) "Obama is about to surge in the states" (Where'd that come from?) "Obama has more enthusiasm than Clinton" (In some polls, yes, in others, no.) "The early state polls don't really reflect anything" -- (This is human tendency to downgrade the importance of evidence that doesn't fit the narrative.)

To me, what's most interesting about Obama's fundraising total is not what it says about the future. It's what it says about the state of the party right now, the divisions within the party's base, the enthusiasm of the Democratic donor base generally, and the willingness of donors to contribute to an idea -- that Obama's election will Change Things -- than a resume -- Hillary Clinton's.

What the recent history of nomination contests teaches us is not that money is dispositive -- it's that money often flows to the hottest candidate, that it takes money to win, and that the person who raises the most money doesn't always win.

What I'd like to know is what percentage of them contributed the maximum, how many of them are new to the party, how many of them also contributed to other candidates, how the average wealth of Obama's supporters compares to Hillary Clintons', what the average donation size is, how much money the Obama campaign spent on donor prospecting, what their rate of returns are.

And strategically, what explains the disconnect between money and measured support? Obama leads in the money race and chases Clinton in New Hampshire and (arguably) Edwards in Iowa. Clinton holds commanding leads in the Feb. 5 states, though I am wary of reading too much into those results just say.