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Bush Stays Far Above Foes in the Money Race

President takes in more in a night than most of his Democratic rivals have in months. Dean widens his edge over the other nine contenders.

October 01, 2003|Nick Anderson | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — President Bush picked up more than $5 million for his reelection fund Tuesday in a swing through the Midwest, as he and the Democrats wanting to replace him continued to scour the country for contributions.

The money Bush raised during stops in Chicago and Cincinnati upped donations to his campaign to about $50 million for the year's third quarter, which ended Tuesday. That was more than triple what former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean, the leading Democratic fund-raiser, was able to collect in July, August and September. Dean had $14.2 million and counting for the period as of Tuesday evening; as he finished a day of campaigning in Southern California with a rally at Union Station in downtown Los Angeles, he was hoping to end the quarter with about $15 million. The other leading Democratic candidates were reporting that they expected to raise about a third as much as Dean -- or less.

Some of the Democrats, in a reflection of the quickening pace of the 10-way fight for the party's 2004 nomination, had more than money on their minds Tuesday. Gen. Wesley Clark, who joined the race two weeks ago, hunted for congressional endorsements to boost his late-starting run. Sen. John F. Kerry of Massachusetts gained the backing of a former White House aspirant, Gary Hart, and gave a speech in Washington amplifying his criticism of the Bush administration's handling of postwar Iraq.

Another Democratic candidate, Rep. Richard A. Gephardt of Missouri, received bad news when John Sweeney, president of the AFL-CIO, said the labor federation would postpone a decision on endorsing a candidate.

Gephardt, who has been courting organized labor all year and has more union endorsements than any of his rivals, had hoped to capture the AFL-CIO's backing to give his campaign a shot of momentum.

Sweeney praised Gephardt as "a real friend of working people and a powerful voice for working families." But official backing from the AFL-CIO is seen as critical to Gephardt's hopes, especially in the Jan. 19 Iowa caucuses.

Bush's poll numbers have been dropping as public concern has mounted about the economy and the continuing violence in Iraq. But in his two stops Tuesday, the president reminded his Democratic foes of the formidable financial assets he brings to the race.

He raised at least $3.5 million at a luncheon in Chicago and roughly $1.7 million later in Cincinnati. After the final tallying, it may prove Bush's most lucrative fund-raising day. And it may prove a day in which he collected more than the Democratic candidates -- other than Dean -- raised for the entire quarter.

For the year, Bush has raised more than $80 million. Dean's total will be about $25 million.

"What we're doing today is laying the groundwork, putting down the foundation for what is going to be a great national victory in November of 2004," Bush told his backers in Chicago. "I appreciate your generosity."

The precise third-quarter fund-raising figures for all the candidates will be made public in reports to the Federal Election Commission, due by Oct. 15.

Clark was trying to round up money and political support from insiders on Capitol Hill. The retired Army general was expected to raise at least $2 million for the quarter, which his campaign touted as a strong start for him.

"Most people understand we've only been in the race for less than two weeks," said Kym Spell, a Clark spokeswoman. "Future filings will be more important to us than this one."

Clark has been endorsed by the two Democratic senators from Arkansas, his home state, and 10 House members, including veteran Rep. Charles B. Rangel (D-N.Y.). On Tuesday, Clark met with other lawmakers, seeking more support.

Gephardt, the former House Democratic leader, has 31 endorsements from members of Congress, the most among the Democratic contenders. Kerry ranks second with 17.

But Clark could make inroads there. Several lawmakers said they were impressed by the former NATO commander who led the alliance to victory in the 1999 Kosovo air war.

"He's an attractive candidate," said Rep. Martin Frost (D-Texas), who is uncommitted and was among those meeting with Clark. "People are looking for something fresh, something new."

Rep. Henry A. Waxman (D-Los Angeles), who also attended the meeting and is uncommitted, said: "It's obvious that Gen. Clark would be a formidable opponent to President Bush on the vital issue of national security."

Kerry, a decorated Vietnam War veteran, sought to spotlight his own national security credentials with his speech on Iraq and the endorsement from Hart. As a former U.S. senator from Colorado, Hart's expertise included defense issues.

Hart, in a conference call with reporters, said: "The person most qualified to be president in 2004 is John Kerry."

Praising Kerry's military background and his understanding of the federal budget and international relations, Hart said, "To me that best summarizes what a presidential candidate should be and should do and uniquely sets John apart from and above all the other candidates in all those categories."

Kerry, who supported last year's congressional resolution that authorized Bush to go to war in Iraq, reiterated his view that the administration has bungled the postwar administration of the country.

"Today, our soldiers' lives, the future of Iraq and the solidarity of free nations are being threatened not by a tin-horn dictator, but by a tin-eared administration which insists that it is always right, refuses to admit when it is wrong and over and over again misleads the American people," Kerry said.

Times staff writers Ronald Brownstein and Edwin Chen contributed to this report.

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