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Bluffing is name of game in campaign fundraising

Aides for Democratic and Republican hopefuls understate their bosses' tallies and inflate foes' totals.

September 26, 2007|Dan Morain | Times Staff Writer

As presidential candidates scrambled to raise money before the Sunday close of the third quarter, aides to top Democrats and Republicans were trying Tuesday to color how the public sees their fundraising totals.

It's part of the expectation game, and comes as some of the candidates converge on what has been the single richest state for campaign money, California.

Though the bluffing and puffing is not as intense as it was at the start of the year, political aides are tweaking one another and seeking to spin the public, downplaying what their candidates may raise and inflating what they say they think their foes will have amassed by the Sept. 30 close of the third quarter.

Some spoke on condition of anonymity so as to distance themselves and their candidates from such tactics.

On the Democratic side, Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois out-raised all others in the first half of 2007, receiving more than $58 million, a record amount for the first six months in the year before a presidential election. In each quarter, his aides low-balled what they said they thought he would raise.

On Tuesday, an aide to Obama predicted that his main rival, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.), would trounce him in the third quarter money race.

The aide said the Illinois senator's campaign "wouldn't be surprised" if Clinton raised $30 million. The prediction came even though in past years, third quarter numbers dip, largely because the period covers summer months when most donors take vacations.

Clinton also has been forced to contend with fundraising issues raised by one of her top bundlers, Norman Hsu, who was jailed this month in a 15-year-old grand theft case.

The Obama aide estimated that the freshman Democrat would raise perhaps $18 million to $19 million -- an amount that would have been astonishing in any other year but would be modest in 2007.

A haul of that size would be significantly less than Obama raised in either of the first two quarters. But of course, the prediction could be part of an effort to lower expectations. Anything above $19 million would be seen as evidence of his surging support.

Clinton's aides weren't buying it.

"I don't know what Obama will do. But I feel confident that he will out-raise us," a top aide to Clinton's campaign countered, adding that the Clinton campaign "wouldn't be shocked" if Obama raises upward of $30 million.

Former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards and New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, along with Sens. Christopher J. Dodd of Connecticut and Joseph R. Biden Jr. of Delaware, are expected to lag behind Obama and Clinton.

Edwards' aides have long said that he hoped to raise $40 million for the year, sufficient to mount campaigns in the early voting states of Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada.

"We're on track for a four-state, $40-million strategy which is the amount our campaign believes will be enough to get our message out in each of the early states," said Edwards' spokeswoman Colleen Murray.

On the Republican side, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney continued his four-day California swing, holding public forums with voters and attending private events with donors.

Romney, though trailing in national polls, is the fundraising front-runner on the Republican side, in part because he has lent his campaign $9 million.

Romney press secretary Kevin Madden said that GOP front-runner Rudolph W. Giuliani could hit $20 million in the third quarter.

"It would be a tremendous challenge for us to get anywhere near that number," Madden said.

"Funny," said Giuliani spokeswoman Maria Comella. While not estimating the amount that Giuliani or Romney will have raised, she said: "I think we are going in a position where we'll be competitive."

Giuliani is heading to California, where he will attend fundraisers Thursday and Friday.

He stumbled when one of his supporters sent an e-mail seeking small donations -- in the amount of $9.11.

The invitation urges backers to give "$9.11" to Giuliani, toward a goal of raising $10,000, according to the Associated Press. Giuliani was New York mayor during the Sept. 11 attacks, and he has used his stands against terrorism as the cornerstone of his presidential campaign.

"I'll let them justify and explain that," Romney's spokesman Madden said. Giuliani spokeswoman Comella called the e-mail "unfortunate" and said it was done without the knowledge of the campaign.


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