By Laura Smith-Spark
BBC News, Washington
Democrat Hillary Clinton may have broken records in her first quarter year of fundraising for the 2008 US presidential race - but she hasn't shaken off the competition.
Barack Obama has come within $1m of rival Hillary Clinton's fund
The $26m (£13m) total for Mrs Clinton dwarfed the previous record, $8.9m, raised by former Vice-President Al Gore at the same stage of the 2000 US election.
But it seems even that sum - more money than was raised by all nine Democratic candidates combined in the equivalent stage of the 2004 campaign - is not enough to give her a clear lead.
2007 FIRST QUARTER FUNDRAISING
Hillary Clinton - $26m
Barack Obama - $25m
Mitt Romney - $23m
Rudy Giuliani - $15m
John Edwards - $14m
John McCain - $12.5m
Figures reported by campaigns for the 2008 frontrunners
Hot on her heels is relative newcomer Democratic Senator Barack Obama, who raised $25m in the first three months of this year, proving he constitutes a real threat.
His campaign claimed 100,000 individual donors - double the number who gave to Ms Clinton - with some $6.9m coming from 50,000 donations over the internet.
On top of that, Republican contender Mitt Romney, former Governor of Massachusetts, has also joined the big beasts, with a declared total of $23m.
So why is so much money rolling in ahead of 2008 - and what does it mean for the contenders' chances?
Observers are already predicting this will be the longest and most expensive presidential election ever.
Republican Mitt Romney has made it into the top tier of fundraisers
Republican and the Democratic hopefuls started the fight for their parties' nomination, to be decided in primaries and caucuses held early next year, unprecedentedly early.
The chosen nominee from each party will then have to campaign all the way to the general election in November 2008.
For this they need big war chests to pay for canvassing operations and expensive advertising.
Not all the campaign organisers have yet spelled out how the money raised so far will be divided between spending on the primary and general election races.
Michael Toner, who chaired the US Federal Election Commission in 2006, believes the stage is set for the "perfect storm" of campaigning as competitors fight to pull in the most cash for the long haul.
"Most of the candidates will raise at least $100m by the end of this year, even before the caucuses and primaries," he told the BBC News website.
"The major Republican and Democratic nominees are likely to raise upwards of $500m apiece, hence the first $1 billion presidential election."
A number of factors are at play in the dramatic increase, says Mr Toner, now a partner in an election law practice.
Firstly, election contribution limits have been increased from $1,000 per person - the upper limit in 2000 - to $2,000 in 2004 and $2,300 this time round.
Another factor is the "extraordinary growth" of internet fundraising, Mr Toner says.
Pioneered by Republican Senator John McCain in 2000, it was a major factor in Democrat Howard Dean's fundraising campaign of 2004.
"Now we are likely to see the full flowering of the internet for potential fundraising," said Mr Toner.
Former President Bill Clinton helped his wife's fundraising efforts
"What the internet allows is a much more inclusive politics, much more people giving to potential candidates than ever before."
Another key ingredient is the decision by a number of large states to bring forward their primaries to 5 February.
"The candidates realise they have to raise the money this year - they can't wait until next January or February to compete in all those states, they must do so now," said Mr Toner.
What is not yet known is where the money came from - private individuals or businesses - how much cash the candidates have to hand, and how much they have actually spent in raising their funds.
Those details will become clear after the campaigns report their full first-quarter figures to the Federal Election Commission on 15 April.
The question some candidates now face is how to keep up with their high-banking rivals.
Former North Carolina Democratic Senator John Edwards has reported raising more than $14m this quarter.
Yet despite being double what he pulled in during the equivalent period in 2004, it has not proved enough to put him among the frontrunners.
Massie Ritsch, spokesman for the Center for Responsive Politics, says a two-tier system is now emerging, with Mr Obama, Mr Romney and Mrs Clinton - who has added $10m from her 2006 Senate campaign to her pot - on the top rung.
Mr McCain's first quarter total would have impressed four years ago
"John McCain's $12.5m, which would have been impressive in any other year, was disappointing because he had two [Republican] candidates ahead of him who did better," he points out.
But he cautions against writing off any candidate too soon.
"It's important to keep in mind that despite the candidates' boasting of how many donors they have mobilised, the bulk of this money comes from a tiny fraction of Americans," he said.
Money may indicate a candidate's popularity among mainly wealthy contributors, he says, "but it's not necessarily a measure of their popularity among the broader electorate".
Meanwhile, the candidates who raised only $3m or $4m this quarter - such as Senators Joe Biden and Chris Dodd - should not despair, Mr Ritsch says.
"We are still almost a year away from the first vote, so these candidates can get their message out if they can run a lean, efficient campaign," he said.
"But they may find at some point that they are overwhelmed by the top tier of candidates."
With two more quarters of fundraising to go before the primaries begin, it may be that the sky's the limit for 2008 - and Mrs Clinton is not the only one reaching for it.