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THE RACE TO THE WHITE HOUSE

Kerry's Focus Is Fundraising

He needs a lot of money to counter Bush's $100-million advantage. Strategists predict he will secure enough to compete.

March 04, 2004|Lisa Getter | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — Before the day had barely begun, three of Massachusetts Sen. John F. Kerry's fundraisers were meeting here over breakfast Wednesday to strategize about how to best organize the trial attorneys about to come their way.

Later, in Orlando, Kerry met with Florida fundraisers, some of whom already supported him and others he was still wooing.

Make no mistake about it: As the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, Kerry needs money -- lots of it -- to battle President Bush, who has a $100-million cash advantage.

"We finally for the first day have a new focus of trying to make up the gap" in fundraising, said Kerry's campaign senior advisor Michael Meehan.

People familiar with the Kerry fundraising strategy said Wednesday that the campaign was actively reaching out to Democratic contributors who had supported other candidates. They're planning a 50-city fundraising blitz to take place over six or eight weeks. They're adding regional finance chairs to an expanding finance team.

And they're setting up a joint account with the Democratic National Committee, so that a donor could write one check for $27,000 -- a $2,000 donation for Kerry and $25,000 to the DNC, the maximums now allowed by law.

DNC Chairman Terry McAuliffe sent an e-mail to 2 million people on a Democratic list seeking contributions for Kerry late Wednesday afternoon, after North Carolina Sen. John Edwards officially dropped out of the race.

McAuliffe said the DNC plans to raise at least $100 million, which it will spend on behalf of Kerry, during the general election.

"They clearly are going to have a lot more money than us," he said of the Republicans. "We need to spend enough to get our message out."

For the first time since Congress enacted campaign finance laws, the two leading presidential contenders have opted out of the public financing system. By doing so, each can now raise unlimited amounts of money.

"We're going to try to raise as much as we can as fast as we can, obviously," Kerry said while campaigning in Orlando.

Although few people expect him to match the $150 million Bush has amassed, strategists and political observers predicted the Massachusetts senator would raise enough money to be competitive.

Anthony Corrado, a professor of government at Colby College who is an expert in campaign spending, said the other Democratic challengers had collectively raised more than $135 million -- a sign that Democrats have money they are willing to spend.

"Can Kerry raise enough to continue to be competitive? I think that's the case," Corrado said. "I expect him to raise another $35 [million] to $50 million" by November.

Those efforts were underway Wednesday.

In Washington, attorney John Coales met with Mississippi lawyer Richard "Dicky" Scruggs and Louisiana attorney Calvin Fayard Jr. to divvy up the task of tapping trial attorneys who had backed Edwards.

"We're getting a lot of calls from Edwards' trial attorneys who want to get on board. There's a lot of money there. They want to come on fast," Coales said.

He said the campaign was planning a big event in New Orleans on April 21 with trial lawyers and businesspeople in the South.

"I think we'll be competitive with Bush. I think he [Kerry] can get over $100 million and that's more than enough," Coales said.

In New York, fundraiser Alan Patricof, who originally had supported retired Gen. Wesley K. Clark, said he had begun getting unsolicited calls from people who want to donate to Kerry. The campaign has a big fundraising event scheduled in New York on April 14.

In Florida, which will be a key state in the general election, the Kerry campaign hopes to raise $10 million before the Democratic National Convention with the help of the DNC.

At a breakfast meeting next week in Miami, 30 fundraisers are being asked to raise at least $10,000 each -- which could bring in as much as $300,000.

"I see compared to 2000 an even higher level of excitement unified behind the candidate," said Chris Korge, a Miami lawyer raising money for Kerry.

Kerry raised about $33 million by the end of the year and his campaign says he had collected an additional $9 million through Feb. 20.

The campaign announced Wednesday that it had received more than $1.2 million over the Internet since its victories Tuesday night.

Kerry's campaign floundered late last year, saved only by a $6.5-million loan from a mortgage he took out himself.

His wife, Teresa Heinz Kerry, heiress to the Heinz ketchup fortune, is reportedly worth more than $500 million, money she could ostensibly use to help her husband -- but only on independent expenditures not coordinated by the campaign.

Her chief of staff, Jeff Lewis, said Wednesday that Heinz "reserves her right" to speak on issues, but "how, when and if" she does would depend on "future events."

The DNC has an untapped $17-million presidential fund, which it can use to help Kerry.

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