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Campaign Money Pours In

November 05, 2002|Janet Hook, James Gerstenzang and Richard Simon | Times Staff Writers

WASHINGTON — With record-setting amounts of money invested in the fight to control Congress, President Bush and candidates around the country engaged in frenetic last-minute politicking on Monday, ending a tense but largely themeless campaign.

The two major political parties are on track to raise at least $500 million in largely unregulated donations from corporations, unions and wealthy individuals -- the "soft money" financing that will be banned after election day. That will break the record set in the 2000 election, when Congress and the presidency were on the ballot.

"The money in this year's races is making this election another one for the record books," said Steve Weiss, an analyst with the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics.

With so much money and power at stake, candidates Monday made their closing pitches for support: Republicans mostly wrapped themselves in the mantle of Bush's popularity while many Democrats -- especially those in conservative states -- sold themselves as independents.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Wednesday November 06, 2002 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 16 inches; 589 words Type of Material: Correction
Spending -- A story Tuesday in Section A reported that Democrat Hillary Rodham Clinton spent $92 million on her successful 2000 New York Senate race. That was the total spent by all candidates in that race. Also, the record for spending by House candidates was $384 million in 2000, not $298 million in 1996.

"This is a race about which one of us is going to be an independent senator in Washington," said Jeanne Shaheen, the Democratic governor of New Hampshire, who is running for an open Senate seat against Republican Rep. John E. Sununu.

Bush continued to hopscotch across the country to campaign for Republican candidates. Like other leaders in both parties, he focused on rousing people to cast their ballots in an election whose lack of focus on a compelling issue seems to have left many voters cold.

"These elections -- they're kind of tight," Bush said in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. "A tight election means you can have a tremendous influence on who wins."

The suspense in today's congressional elections centers on relatively few races. Although all 435 House seats are on the ballot, analysts rate no more than 20 as up for grabs. Of the 34 Senate seats at stake, roughly eight are viewed as competitive.

But with each chamber so narrowly divided -- the GOP controls the House by six seats, the Democratic majority in the Senate is one -- the outcomes of these close races could reshape Capitol Hill's balance of power.

Most experts expected the Republicans to hold on to the House. The analysts also gave Democrats a slight edge in the fight for control of the Senate, though these predictions were less firm.

In California, as in many states, there is little doubt about the winners in congressional elections. Neither of the state's Democratic senators, Barbara Boxer or Dianne Feinstein, is up for reelection. And the results of all but one of the state's 53 House elections are considered preordained.

The one exception is the fight to succeed Rep. Gary A. Condit (D-Ceres); the contest between Democratic state Assemblyman Dennis Cardoza and Republican state Sen. Dick Monteith is competitive, although Cardoza is favored to win.

Precise figures on how much money will be spent on House and Senate campaigns nationally will not be available until after election day. But it is clear that the parties are engaging in a last-call binge on soft money -- even though donors are expected to find loopholes to continue channeling big money into politics after the campaign finance reform law enacted takes effect on Wednesday.

As of Oct. 16, the GOP had raised $221.7 million in soft-money contributions and Democrats $199.6 million, according to an analysis of Federal Election Commission data by the Center for Responsive Politics. Based on fund-raising trends, the center expects the final soft-money figures for this campaign to surpass the $500-million record in the 2000 election.

Candidates' spending of the donations known as "hard money," which are limited, also set a record in House races: The $391 million spent through Oct. 16 is up from the record of $298 million in 1996.

As of Oct.16, Senate candidates had spent $226 million -- down from the $296 million spent in 2000, when Democrat Hillary Rodham Clinton alone spent a record $92 million on her successful New York Senate race.

A list of this year's top spending races is like a field guide to the year's closest contests. The most has been spent in North Carolina, where the $23-million fight between Republican Elizabeth Hanford Dole and Democrat Erskine Bowles has tightened. For months, Dole enjoyed a large lead in the polls.

Next in fund-raising -- topping $18 million -- is Minnesota, which until late last month was a hard-fought contest between Republican Norm Coleman and Sen. Paul Wellstone (D-Minn.). After the plane crash that killed Wellstone, former Vice President Walter F. Mondale stepped in as the Democratic candidate.

Another barometer of election hot spots has been Bush's extensive travel schedule. He traveled extensively throughout the year and campaigned virtually nonstop in recent days, touting GOP candidates in hopes of achieving more support in Congress for his program of more tax cuts, more defense spending and more conservative judges.

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