WASHINGTON — Sen. John F. Kerry's presidential campaign raised more than $100 million in the last three months, a record-breaking surge that helped him stay competitive with President Bush's once-overwhelming war chest, according to figures released Wednesday by Kerry's campaign.
Kerry announced he had raised at least $26 million in May, double what Bush raised in the same period. Kerry also collected more than Bush in March and April. The donations swelled Kerry's campaign coffers to $145 million, the most any presidential challenger has raised, his campaign said.
The fundraising figures reinforced predictions by campaign money experts that more than $1 billion will be spent on this year's presidential race.
The numbers also bolstered claims by Republicans that Kerry, aided by independent groups set up by Democratic insiders, may have outspent Bush come November.
Mary Beth Cahill, Kerry's campaign manager, claimed Wednesday that when the Massachusetts senator effectively nailed down his party's nomination in early March, "the Bush campaign immediately launched a negative attack campaign, declaring that within 90 days they would 'bury' our campaign."
Said Cahill: "I'm happy to report that 90 days later, they failed.... The Kerry campaign is stronger than ever."
Kerry kept up the pace this week while campaigning in Ohio, with major fundraisers in Cincinnati on Tuesday and Columbus on Wednesday. Campaign officials said those events generated more than $1.3 million for Kerry's campaign and $650,000 for the Democratic National Committee.
On his two-day visit to Ohio, one of the most hotly contested states of the presidential race, Kerry stressed his domestic agenda, meeting in Columbus with people who run an afterschool program.
He touted his proposal to expand a federal tax credit for working parents who pay for child care. He called for increasing the credit to cover the first $5,000 of expenses per child, up from the current $3,000 cap.
Kerry and prominent Ohio supporters also pressed his case for rolling back Bush's tax cut for Americans who earn more than $200,000 a year, and then investing the money in education, healthcare and other programs.
"John Kerry doesn't want to see you and your family's future dependent on how much you happen to get trickled on from this trickle-down economics," former Sen. John Glenn of Ohio told several hundred donors at the Columbus fundraiser.
From Ohio, Kerry returned to Washington, where he said he would meet with campaign staff and colleagues in Congress. A handful of those colleagues are contenders to be Kerry's running mate, but Kerry declined to answer questions on the matter.
"I don't talk about the veep stuff -- you know that," he told reporters.
Once Kerry is nominated at the end of July, he will get $75 million in public money to spend for the general election, but must stop raising and spending private money.
Because the Republican National Convention in New York is not until late August, Bush will be able to raise and spend private money about five weeks longer than Kerry.
So far, Bush has raised about $216 million, a presidential record. Though he stopped holding major fundraisers for himself in April, the president continues to collect donations for the GOP and congressional candidates.
It was not known how much of the $216 million has been spent. The Kerry and Bush campaigns have until Sunday to file detailed spending and donation reports with the Federal Election Commission.
"We have always indicated we will be outspent by John Kerry and the liberal soft money groups," said Bush spokesman Scott Stanzel. "That's why we're raising money from more than 1 million donors from every county and state in this nation."
Assisting Kerry are independent groups that have been organized by Democratic supporters. They are legally permitted to raise and spend money on behalf of Kerry but are not permitted to coordinate strategy with the Kerry campaign.
Two of the groups, America Coming Together and the Media Fund, have already raised $110 million, said spokesman Jim Jordan. MoveOn.org Voter Fund has reported raising $17.7 million, while its political action committee has taken in nearly $5 million.
Most of the money going directly to Kerry's campaign has come through the Internet or by mail and phone solicitations. Kerry raised $44 million online in the last three months, and $31 million via direct mail and phones, according to his campaign.
In May, Kerry's campaign reported, it received 90,000 contributions through its website; the average donation was $108.
About half of the Internet money has come through the website, the rest in response to e-mails sent by the campaign, according to Josh Ross, 32, director of the campaign's Internet strategy.
Ross joined Kerry's campaign in November, transforming its Internet operation into a huge moneymaking machine.
He said donors "are still making contributions at a furious clip."
Getter reported from Washington, Finnegan from Ohio.