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CAMPAIGN 2000

Faithful Donors Play Vital Role in Keyes' Political Crusade

Fund-raising: Despite underdog status, folks still give money to the former deputy U.N. ambassador. They believe in the man, and his message.

March 04, 2000|ERIC SLATER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

CLINTON, N.Y. — If you left one of the Republican front-runners off the ballot, placed a voting booth in every Christian church in the country and changed primary day to Sundays, oddsmakers would still call Alan Keyes a very bad bet for his party's presidential nomination.

So it is not entirely clear at first why Mike McDonald would take $250 of the $23,000 he makes a year and mail it to the campaign of the loquacious conservative.

It helps to know, however, that the 34-year-old computer network manager from this town in upstate New York also donates to Thomas Aquinas College in Santa Paula, Calif., even though he never studied at the Roman Catholic school. He ponders the implications of the Federalist Papers. He reads the conservative National Review magazine and attends Mass every week.

"It appears," McDonald conceded, "that Alan Keyes is not going to win. But I think we can still send a message. I think my contribution helps."

Anyone still giving money to the campaign of the former deputy U.N. ambassador is, by definition, a true believer.

Keyes' strongest showing thus far was in the Iowa caucuses, where he took a distant third with 14% of the vote. He has failed to make double digits in every primary since.

Texas Gov. George W. Bush has secured 170 of the 1,034 delegates needed for the nomination. Sen. John McCain of Arizona has 105.

Alan Keyes? He has five.

But like hundreds of recent contributors, McDonald views his donation less as a bet on the candidate than as an investment in the country's future--a buy-and-hold stock in a nation he hopes will turn to God before government, in a Supreme Court that might one day overturn Roe vs. Wade.

"My one vote doesn't count for much," the soft-spoken McDonald said. "But if this [contribution] helps him buy advertising, which helps him acquire more votes--that's the idea."

Keyes, a former radio talk-show host with a preacher's passion and a scholar's intellect, has emerged as perhaps the most eloquent orator of the religious right in years. And in a primary season that has been filled with televised debates, he has seen his profile--and the level in his campaign coffers--rise dramatically.

As of Jan. 31, Keyes had taken in $6.1 million (and spent nearly $5.6 million), according to the Federal Election Commission, just slightly less than the better-known Patrick J. Buchanan, who garnered $6.5 million. Dozens of the contributions were for the legal maximum of $1,000.

It's not enough to spring for ice sculptures like the one Bush's campaign erected in the press dining room at a recent Michigan rally, or to helicopter across Southern California as McCain did Wednesday. But it's enough to pay for punch and cookies and the occasional sandwich plate at rallies, mostly coach-class air fares from one city to the next, and direct-mail advertising to ask for more money.

And the money keeps coming. Some 600 people donated in January alone, according to the latest figures from the FEC.

One of them was Martin Goetz, who would gladly give more. But his $250 check on Jan. 31 put his total contributions to Keyes' campaign at the $1,000 limit.

"If I were able to legally donate $100 million to his campaign so he could express his views like the other candidates, I would have done it--if I had $100 million," said the electronics executive from San Jose. "I would have done it at the time we found out [Bush] got $70 million."

Like many contributors, Goetz--who was raised Catholic and now belongs to a Methodist church, who once voted for abortion rights but now opposes abortion--has benefited from the soaring economy and credits the Clinton administration for aiding his prosperity.

But the 39-year-old with a doctorate in electrical engineering has two young children, with another on the way. And, invoking the recent case in Michigan in which a 6-year-old boy shot a 6-year-old classmate to death, Goetz said he would "sacrifice my economic security in a heartbeat" for moral leadership.

"My money and my vote are for, if nothing else, my conscience," Goetz said.

Longshot campaigns have always played a rollicking role in presidential races, with everyone from the late comic Pat Paulsen to conspiracy theorist extraordinaire Lyndon H. LaRouche Jr. popping up cycle after cycle to pan the process, shift the debate or often just keep themselves in the game for the next go-round.

LaRouche, who once campaigned from a prison cell following conspiracy and tax evasion convictions, has raised $2.6 million so far this season, according to the federal election panel.

But Keyes, with his seamless oratory and right-and-wrong views on everything from abortion to free trade, has emerged as the most serious and influential of these Don Quixotes.

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