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THE NATION

Campaign Funding Contest Heats Up

June 29, 2003|Mark Z. Barabak | Times Staff Writer

Joe Lieberman is sending urgent e-mails. Dick Gephardt has been spending at least eight hours a day on the telephone, six days a week. John Kerry squeezes in calls wherever time allows, even while standing in line for ice cream between campaign stops.

While President Bush vacuums up millions of dollars with apparent ease -- most recently in Los Angeles and San Francisco on Friday -- the Democrats who hope to oppose him in 2004 are scrambling for every nickel before a deadline of midnight Monday. That is when the Federal Election Commission closes its books on political fund-raising for the year's second quarter.

The results, to be released in the days that follow, will go a long way toward shaping the dynamic of a nomination contest that remains stubbornly ill-defined, even after months of intense campaigning.

Key questions include:

Will Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina continue his pace-setting fund-raising of the first three months of the year?

Will Sen. Lieberman of Connecticut and Rep. Gephardt of Missouri improve upon their middling first-quarter showings?

Will former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean continue to out-raise rivals such as Florida Sen. Bob Graham, who start with a bigger financial base?

The top contenders are all expected to report raising roughly between $4 million to $6 million for the second quarter -- April 1 though Monday -- though solid figures are difficult to come by. Each campaign has an incentive to low-ball its estimate -- the better to exceed it -- and to raise expectations for their rivals, heightening their pressure to perform.

'We want to do better than the last quarter," said Joe Trippi, the manager of Dean's campaign, in a typical bit of understatement.

By that meager standard, Dean should claim a whopping success: after raising $2.6 million from Jan. 1 to March 31, his campaign is forecasting a $4-million second quarter -- which means it probably expects to raise even more.

The candidates who collected the most first-quarter money -- Edwards and Sen. Kerry of Massachusetts -- are not expected to match that earlier clip. Edwards' $7.4 million in receipts led the field of nine hopefuls, while Kerry raised $7 million.

"What matters most is who makes their budget," said Jim Jordan, Kerry's campaign manager, "and we're well ahead of where I expected we'd be at this point."

By most guesses, a serious run for the nomination next year will cost between $20 million and $25 million. Because of the front-loaded schedule of contests, which start Jan. 19 with the Iowa caucuses, candidates will have to raise the bulk of that sum this year. Thus, the second-quarter results are a kind of progress report, avidly anticipated by a small group of political insiders -- mainly donors, reporters and campaign operatives.

Stuart Rothenberg, a Washington-based independent political analyst, said money matters for two reasons: "In terms of the ability to get a message out, and establishing credibility for a campaign."

Part of that credibility rests on a subjective judgment of each candidates' fund-raising performance.

Erik Smith, a Gephardt spokesman, suggested that "every candidate needs to raise more than they did the previous quarter" to be judged a success.

Gephardt, who raised $3.5 million, is expected to raise $4 million or more this quarter. Lieberman, who raised $3 million, also hopes for a $4-million quarter. By Smith's estimation that would be a success.

On the other hand, even if Kerry and Edwards raised more than that -- collecting, say, $5 million -- they will have failed, Smith said. "To prove momentum, it's hard to argue that raising a million, 2 million less than the previous quarter is good," he said.

Nonsense, replied Jennifer Palmieri, an Edwards spokeswoman.

"We set out to have a big number in the first quarter to show, though our candidate is not well known, he had the ability to attract a lot of support," she said. "We always said we would not hit that number in the second quarter."

Edwards expects to raise $4 million to $5 million for the period, aides said, while Kerry strategists forecast a $5-million quarter.

Graham, whose entry in the race was delayed partly by heart surgery in January, raised about $1 million in the first quarter. Analysts say he needs to raise $4 million to $5 million this time to boost his credibility.

Jamal Simmons, a Graham spokesman, declined to discuss numbers but suggested the senator would come up short of that amount.

"We always expected the third quarter and fourth quarter to be the ones where we raised the most money," Simmons said.

The hopefuls with the least riding on the money chase are those perceived to comprise the bottom tier of contenders.

Former Illinois Sen. Carol Moseley Braun, Ohio Rep. Dennis J. Kucinich and the Rev. Al Sharpton were far off the fund-raising pace in the first quarter, and that is not expected to change.

*

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

First-quarter dollar differences

Fund-raising for the nine Democratic presidential hopefuls varies greatly. Totals for Jan. 1 to March 31, in millions:

*--* Candidates Raised Cash on hand Sen. John Edwards, North Carolina $7.4 $5.7 Sen. John F. Kerry, Massachusetts $7.0 $8.0 Rep. Richard A. Gephardt, Missouri $3.5 $4.9 Sen. Joe Lieberman, Connecticut $3.0 $1.8 Former Gov. Howard Dean, Vermont $2.6 $2.0 Sen. Bob Graham, Florida $1.1 $1.1 Rep. Dennis J. Kucinich, Ohio $0.17 $0.05 The Rev. Al Sharpton, New York $0.09 $0.08 Former Sen. Carol Moseley Braun, Illinois $0.07 $0.05

*--*

Source: Federal Election Commission

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