“I know what we start here on this field will end on the steps of Capitol Hill next January as Barack Obama takes the oath of office as our next president” — Hillary Clinton

I know that, because of our campaign, because of the campaign that Hillary Clinton waged, my daughters and all of your daughters will forever know that there is no barrier to who they are and what they can be in the United States of America…They can take for granted that women can do anything that the boys can do, and do it better. And do it in heels.” — Barack Obama.

They met in Unity, New Hampshire, a place chosen because no-one has yet named an American town ‘Bitter Alliance, Nebraska’ or ‘Not-Gagging-On-What-I’m-Saying, Wyoming’.* Though both would deny they’d colour-coordinated, Obama’s blue tie was of a shade identical to Hillary’s pant-suit, giving the appearance that he’d torn a strip of it off her and wrapped it round his neck in triumph.

The rally – in which Hillary urged her supporters to put the past behnd them and back Obama, and Obama sang the praises of his erstwhile opponent, was, as Pat Buchanan noted on MSNBC, “an arranged marriage with a pre-nup”. Obama needs Hillary to corral her supporters and lead them back into the Democratic mainstream, and Hillary needs Obama to help pay off some of her mammoth debts.

Though Obama can’t directly pay over a portion of his massive fundraising haul to Camp Clinton, he can try to direct donations coming in to his website to pay directly to the Clinton campaign. Whether they will do that depends on how much they know about where the money’s going – Clinton’s campaign owes at least $5 million to Mark Penn, her chief strategist, and another $5m to herself.

With the Clinton’s wealth estimated at $110 million, and Penn’s payment going to his powerful consulting organisation, it’s not exactly a draw for the sort of donors Obama has been relying on, the $50 and $100 here and there.

Most likely the debt will be repaid by Obama’s ‘bundlers’ – the fundraiser who specialise in finding, ten, twenty, a hundred people to donate the maximum $2,600 an individual can give to a candidate. Those who’ve donated the maximum amount to Obama now have their slate cleared to donate to Hillary. Two thousand such donors – not such a huge number – would knock a hole in the debt, at least part of which is money owed on hall rentals, etc, rapid payment of which is politically imperative.

The corollary is, if course, that Obama now has access to Hillary’s donors and bundlers and, though that is a smaller resource than Obama’s Iowaesque floodplain of money, it will help enormously now that Obama has knocked back public funding for his campaign.

Obama goes private.

The announcement last week by the Obama team that they would go private was greeted with astonishment, dismay and a quasar’s-worth of spin by the punditocracy. Obama had previously asserted that he would take public funding for the campaign, but that was before it became clear just how willing people were to contribute to his run. Public funding limits a candidate’s general election budget to $84 million (in 2008) once s/he’s been nominated by the party convention.

For John McCain, who has accepted public funding, that’s a good bet. He raised a total of about $115 million to the end of May, compared to Obama’s $287 million. More significant however, is the amount that has come from small donors — $200 or less -– compared to those who’ve given close to the maximum $2,300. Almost half of Obama’s money to date has come from those small donors, almost 150,000 of them, which means they can be returned to. They would only need to part with another $600 each, on average, to exceed the total public funds availabe to McCain – and that is before we have even counted new donors who have held back so as to be able to give a maximum amount to whoever the Democrats pick — Hillary contributors, John Edwards’ contributors, independents drawn to the Obama movement over the coming months. There is also the small but increasing number of Obamicans – Republicans who believe that McCain is simply too compromised, too bellicose, too nothing-much-at-all and that Obama at least offers a chance for fresh thinking.

Thus Obama has rich fields yet to tap – there is potentially another $200-300 million out there for him to throw at McCain during the three months between the convention and the election.

McCain, by contrast, knows that his funding sources are fast drying up. His main primary rival, Mitt Romney, worked off a base substantially composed of maximum contribution supporters, and Mike Huckabee was working off a base in the hundreds. There is much less of a guarantee that supporters of either candidate would be willing to donate to McCain than Obama can rely on.

Despite the rhetoric, you could barely run a sheet of paper between Hillary and Obama’s plans on Iraq, health care, and the economy. By contrast, Huckabee’s supporters want the Constitution rewritten to include the ten commandments. McCain will be fighting to get them to the polling booth at all, let alone with part with money for the kids’ home-schooling.

Grim Tidings.

Thus, things are looking grim for McCain. When Newsweek came out with a poll putting Obama 15% ahead, it was dismissed as an outlier. When The LA Times followed up with a poll having him 12% ahead, it was clear that something was going on. RealClearPolitics‘ poll of polls now has Obama running 7% ahead.

So, it’s still a long way to November, but there is more than a hint of desperation around the Republican camp, and its minions in Fox News and elsewhere. Obama’s private-funding decision – he had hitherto strongly supported public funding and his support for the recent 5-4 Supreme Court decision striking down a handgun ban, has made it clear that he’s no hapless liberal in the Kerry/Dukakis manner. He really wants to win, and he’s not going to be outflanked on issues that are not at the economic/foreign policy core.

Nor does there seem to be much joy from the ‘527’ groups – the ‘independent’ attack dogs who ran ads such as the Swift Boat Veterans attack on Kerry in 2004 – as new regulations have made direct attacks on a candidate’s character impermissible for such groups. Faced with this appalling demand that they focus on the issues, many right organisations have said they’ll sit this election out.

Meanwhile Obama has launched a 20 state ad campaign — including such Republican strongholds as Alaska — in what is the start of a 50-state strategy.

Oh yes, there will be blood.

*There’s a ‘Truth Or Consequences’ in New Mexico, named after a radio quiz show. Also Intercourse, Pennsylvania, named by literal-minded Amish farmers, and Boring, Oregon, named after a local but which – in typical blue state Oregon fashion — has become an ironic rallying point. Others include Muck City, Alabama, Steam Corner, Indiana, and of course Frankenstein, Missouri.