At this embryonic stage in the creation of the next Democratic presidential nominee, ranking the contenders is mostly guesswork, because there are few meaningful ways to measure who is ahead and by how much. However, by early April, the campaigns with the most to brag about financially will begin leaking estimates of how much they have raised in 2003. The ill-fated 1995-96 campaign of then-Sen. Phil Gramm, R-Texas, demolished the axiom that whoever raises the most money in the year before the first real votes are cast always goes on to win the presidential nomination. Nevertheless, fundraising ability remains the best early indicator of whether a presidential contender should be taken seriously.

Until the Federal Election Commission's financial report cards come out in April (after the leaks), the only objective measurement is polling data, which is of limited value this early in the contest. Current poll results mostly reflect pre-campaign name recognition, rather than any real progress made by a presidential campaign.

Still, these polls do accomplish one thing: They establish a baseline showing where each candidate started-nationally, in the

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