Howard Dean has shattered all Democratic presidential fundraising records, but he will have to quadruple the rate at which he is collecting money to achieve his goal of matching President Bush dollar for dollar during the primary season.
In the second half of 2003, the former Vermont governor raised $5 million a month, far more than any previous Democratic contender, including Bill Clinton.
Former Vermont governor Howard Dean raised $5 million a month in the second half of 2003.
But, if Dean, the leader in most Democratic polls, is to equal Bush's fundraising target during the primary season -- $170 million to $200 million -- he will have to raise $20 million to $26 million every month before the Democratic convention opens July 26.
Dean based his goal of matching Bush on the assumption that he will win enough early primaries and caucuses to become the de facto nominee by mid-February. Fundraising specialists, and academics who study political money, strongly question Dean's ability to keep pace with Bush, but Dean campaign officials say they are confident they can do it.
"If the Democratic Party cannot get 2 million Americans to give $100 each [enough to raise $200 million], there is something really wrong with this party," said Joe Trippi, Dean's campaign manager. "We fiercely believe we can do this."
Trippi acknowledged that a sharp increase in fundraising will not take place until Dean becomes the acknowledged nominee. "Its hard to raise that kind of money" when running against fellow Democrats, he said. But "it's different when the story gets turned and raising money is to defeat George Bush. . . . If and when we are at the point where it's Howard Dean versus George Bush, that is when we believe we can do that [raise $200 million]."
Trippi cited the campaign's success, over the past year, in dramatically boosting the number of supporters signed up on the Internet and attending pro-Dean meetings.
Bush's campaign is expected to announce today that it raised about $130 million in 2003. Dean raised $41 million by Dec. 31.
Dean announced Nov. 9 that he would reject public financing during the primaries -- which carries spending limits -- and said he intended to raise $200 million before the nominating convention in Boston. "We believe 2 million Americans will borrow $100 simply for the pleasure of sending this president back to Crawford, Texas," he said.
Michael Malbin, executive director of the nonpartisan Campaign Finance Institute, said: "If Dean can win the nomination and is able to consolidate the party and the [unsuccessful] candidates, he should be able to raise significantly more than he has so far. But to get to $20 million a month is a very tall mountain to climb."
In the general election contest, which starts when the conventions end, Bush and the Democratic nominee are expected to finance their campaigns entirely with public money -- $74.6 million each.
Dean, Bush and Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.) have all rejected public financing because recipients must limit their primary spending to $44.6 million. The other seven Democrats are accepting the federal subsidies.
Bush, who in 2000 rejected public financing during the primaries and raised $101 million, has forced a major reappraisal of presidential fundraising strategies. This year, with no serious primary opposition, Bush will have more than $100 million to spend during the spring and summer months on television advertising and party building.
Democrats realized that a candidate accepting public money could spend it all by mid-February to secure the nomination and have no cash until August, when general election public money would become available.
Bush, meanwhile, would be free to continue raising and spending money for a variety of uses, including attack ads on television.
The 2002 McCain-Feingold bill banned large "soft money" donations, further compounding the Democrats' dilemma by eliminating a crucial source of cash for the Democratic National Committee. In past campaigns, the DNC used soft money to finance commercials supporting the de facto nominee while the candidate was low on funds.
Kerry, who raised $2.5 million in the last quarter of 2003, is putting his own money into his campaign, including $6.4 million generated by mortgaging his Beacon Hill home.
In the race for dollars, Dean's closest Democratic competitor in the last quarter was retired Army Gen. Wesley K. Clark, who raised more than $10 million. Clark has also received the largest amount of initial federal matching money, $3.7 million. Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman (D-Conn.) was second with $3.6 million, followed by Sen. John Edwards (D-N.C.), $3.4 million, and Rep. Richard A. Gephardt (D-Mo.), $3.1 million.