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CAMPAIGN 2000

McCain's $10-Million Month Could Put Him on Par With Bush

Politics: Internet site generated about 40% of the latest contributions, his aides say. Texas governor gears up to raise more money after spending spree.

March 07, 2000|ELIZABETH SHOGREN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

WASHINGTON — Sen. John McCain was showered with $10 million in individual contributions last month, giving his upstart candidacy virtual parity with financial Goliath George W. Bush in campaigning for today's big sweep of primaries, his aides said.

This stunning windfall, about 40% of which came over the Internet, drew an additional $5 million in federal matching funds to the campaign, putting the candidate in good financial form for the next round of multiple primaries a week from today, according to Dan McLagan, a spokesman for McCain.

As a result, the Arizona senator has been doing what was unthinkable a month ago, broadcasting almost as many television commercials as Texas Gov. Bush in preparation for today's showdown, according to Bush media tracker Matthew Dowd.

"If McCain loses, it's not going to be because he didn't have the money to compete," said Larry Makinson, director of the Center for Responsive Politics, a Washington-based campaign finance study group. "It is truly remarkable. I don't think we've ever seen a mushrooming of money the way we have with the McCain campaign."

Meanwhile, the Bush campaign is gearing up to replenish its coffers with about a dozen fund-raising events over the next several weeks, which campaign officials hope will help them raise as much as $10 million this spring, according to Don Evans, Bush's finance chairman.

In the most recent finance reports filed Jan. 31, Bush had already spent $50 million of his record $70-million war chest. Since then, his contributions have been trickling in while money has been gushing out to pay for television advertisements. The campaign refused to reveal exactly how much it has on hand, but observers estimate that it is probably not more than $10 million.

"The Bush folks have raised and spent $70 million, and it did not buy them the coronation they thought it would," McLagan said. "We're finally competitive in our ability to get our message out in the big states."

McCain strategist Mike Murphy suggested Monday that the campaign will have enough money to compete with Bush at least through June, if necessary. "We have millions and millions of dollars left," he said.

A third Republican candidate, former diplomat Alan Keyes, raised more than $6 million, according to his Jan. 31 report, and had about $500,000 left in cash.

Meanwhile, Democratic candidate Bill Bradley spent copiously in the run-up to today's primaries while Vice President Al Gore, front-runner for the Democratic nomination, continued to ease off on his spending, reserving funds for a possible general election campaign.

The Bradley campaign refused to specify how much money it has left.

This primary season has been full of surprises where money is concerned. Not only did McCain end up with an unthinkably large injection of cash late in the game, but, by giving Bush a real race, he likely upset the predictions that Bush would have a huge financial advantage against the Democrats if he were the GOP nominee.

"Al Gore . . . will have the chance to fight George Bush on his own terms," said Gore's campaign chairman, Tony Coelho. "We can either match or shadow him [in TV and radio ads]."

It wasn't supposed to be this way, Coelho cheerfully admitted. Bush was supposed to be set with the largest presidential campaign coffer in history, and Gore's advisors worried that they would be broke by the end of a bruising primary against a well-funded Bradley.

That's exactly what happened to Republican Bob Dole in 1996. His campaign was nearly bankrupt after a difficult primary season against multimillionaire Steve Forbes. He had to limp along for several months while President Clinton, who was running unopposed, had plenty of money.

McCain's fund-raising success confounds conventional wisdom. Even after McCain beat Bush in New Hampshire, analysts warned that Bush's behemoth-like financial stature would make it impossible for McCain to compete in the crucial multi-primary events today and next week. But that view has changed.

"He has brought a lot of new people to politics, and he has opened a lot of checkbooks of people who never dreamed of giving to politicians before," Makinson said. "The biggest message money-wise from this race is, the people can trump the money if they take interest."

Bush media advisor Dowd questioned whether McCain's February contributions were as plentiful as the campaign claims, suggesting that if they were McCain would have spent even more to try to win in the big states today, particularly California.

Bush aides estimate the McCain campaign spent about $4 million to broadcast commercials for today's primaries. This put McCain even or just slightly behind Bush's spending in four of the states that vote today--New York, Ohio, Missouri and Maryland, according to Dowd. Bush did outdo McCain in commercials broadcast in California, spending $3.1 million to McCain's $2.4 million, Dowd said.

The McCain campaign refused to discuss ad spending.

Regardless of the outcome of today's primaries, Dowd said, Bush "will have the resources necessary to keep competing."

Bush did not take federal matching funds in the primary season, so he can spend as much as he wants--unlike McCain, Gore and Bradley.

So, while the other three candidates have all but finished fund-raising, Bush is revving up for another big round of fund-raising parties.

Evans said the campaign hopes to raise an average of $250,000 per event and will also focus on raising money through direct mail and the Internet. Bush has committed to attending five fund-raising events in coming weeks, and his famous parents and his wife will headline several others. The candidate is expected to attend several others as well, but they have not yet been announced.

Times staff writers Maria L. La Ganga, T. Christian Miller and Janet Wilson contributed to this story.

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