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CAMPAIGN '08: WAR CHESTS

GOP campaigns do some belt-tightening

A race with no front- runner, a field many voters find lacking and predictions of a loss this fall hinder fundraising.

January 13, 2008|Janet Hook | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — Republican presidential candidates, losing the fundraising advantage their party has enjoyed for decades, are starting to feel the pinch.

Tight for cash, Mitt Romney has pulled television advertising in two key states. Rudolph W. Giuliani has cut his payroll and moved staff from states that he is writing off. Even Mike Huckabee, winner of the GOP Iowa caucuses, has fallen short of his fundraising goals.

Republicans' fundraising has lagged far behind the Democrats' in a primary campaign that has no clear GOP front- runner. Many voters are dissatisfied with their choices, and many analysts are predicting a Democratic victory in the fall.

One measure of Democrats' advantage: In the wake of her New Hampshire primary victory, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York received more than $6 million in cash and pledges in a matter of days. The Republicans' New Hampshire winner, Sen. John McCain of Arizona, raised less than $1 million, even though the day after the primary was his biggest fundraising day of the campaign.

As of Sept. 30, the Republican candidates combined reported having $42.7 million in cash on hand, which was $8 million less than Clinton alone, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

It is a remarkable reversal for a GOP that has dominated politics for more than a decade, in part because of its significant financial advantage.

"It really is a sea change," said Democratic consultant Bill Carrick, who is not involved in the presidential campaign. "If it continues, it could change the fundamental balance of American politics."

Republicans' financial woes are a reflection, in part, of an enthusiasm gap: Polls indicate that GOP voters are less excited about their candidate field and their party's prospects than are Democrats.

"Whatever happens, there is a general belief among Republicans that they are going to lose," said Thomas E. Mann, a political analyst at the Brookings Institution. "That certainly shows up in fundraising."

But their lagging fundraising also reflects the unsettled state of the crowded field, which has kept many big donors on the sidelines until a front-runner emerges.

"There is a ton of money out there waiting for the field to sort out," said Dirk Van Dongen, a Giuliani supporter who is president of the National Assn. of Wholesaler-Distributors. "At the end of the day, when you're down to two people, the Republican Party will not suffer from a lack of money."

Republicans' cash disadvantage has been obvious for months in campaign finance filings. But what had been just a problem on paper is now taking a toll in what candidates can do and where they can compete.

The leading Democratic candidates, Clinton and Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois, have one subtle fundraising advantage over their GOP rivals: They are both sitting senators who are members of the ruling party in Congress.

The Republicans, by contrast, have no such influence to leverage with donors.

Huckabee and Romney are former governors of Arkansas and Massachusetts, respectively, with no current office; Giuliani, the former New York mayor, and former Sen. Fred Thompson of Tennessee left office years ago. McCain is in the minority party in the Senate and has a long history of tangling with powerful industries that give to Republicans.

Even at the peak of his campaign surge, Huckabee has struggled. The night of the Iowa caucuses, he set a new fundraising goal of $1 million within a week. On Thursday, a week after his Iowa victory, Huckabee e-mailed supporters that he was still more than $100,000 short.

In recent days, Huckabee has claimed to have $2 million in cash on hand, but that is far less than the $7 million Giuliani has claimed.

Even with $7 million, Giuliani is stretched thin in a big, expensive state like Florida, which he has targeted as his make-or-break primary, Jan. 29. Skipping the earlier contests, Giuliani has increasingly shifted his resources to Florida. Just recently, nine staffers were moved from South Carolina, where he once had been strong in polls, to Florida. With prospects in Michigan's Jan. 19 primary dimming, the campaign moved staff from that state to Illinois, which votes Feb. 5.

"This is a resource-allocation game," one Giuliani advisor said. "You can't campaign effectively in every state."

Giuliani acknowledged Friday that about a dozen of his senior staffers were forgoing their salaries. That economizing measure is not unprecedented: Several on McCain's campaign deferred salaries over the summer after a staff purge.

Romney has kept his staff intact and fully paid, and recently reported raising $5 million in a nationwide appeal. But in the wake of his second-place finish in New Hampshire, Romney economized by dropping advertisements in Florida and South Carolina. He has focused his time and advertising money on Michigan, whose primary is shaping up as a make-or-break contest for him.

janet.hook@latimes.com

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Times staff writers Joe Mathews and Dan Morain contributed to this report.

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