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In Campaign 2008, Candidates Starting Earlier, Spending More

Sen. John McCain of Arizona visited with potential voters at the Iowa State Fair last August as part of his effort to have a more visible presence earlier in key states as he seeks the Republican presidential nomination in 2008.
Sen. John McCain of Arizona visited with potential voters at the Iowa State Fair last August as part of his effort to have a more visible presence earlier in key states as he seeks the Republican presidential nomination in 2008. (By David Peterson -- Des Moines Register Via Associated Press)

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By Matthew Mosk
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, February 7, 2007

Starting as early as last June, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) was hiring staffers and consultants in New Hampshire and Iowa and building the foundation for his 2008 presidential bid at a time when those in early battleground states typically get a breather from national politics.

Campaign filings released last week show that he spent more than $375,000 on staffing and consulting, getting an early jump in those states. One campaign cycle earlier, a single candidate -- Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.) -- had started hiring in-state advisers at that point, and by the end of 2002 he had spent only $4,200 paying those aides.

The financial reports begin to document the underpinnings of a drive for dollars that is expected to make 2008 the nation's first billion-dollar presidential campaign. Top-tier candidates are hard at work courting wealthy political enthusiasts who can deliver scores of thousand-dollar donors. Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) held a gathering for 70 of those "bundlers," as they are known, last night at her Washington home. [Story, A8.]

To understand the impulses behind this fundraising race, look no further than activity in a cluster of early caucus and primary states. Democrats competing for their party's nomination will face a rapid-fire succession of contests in Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina in January. Republicans will compete in Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Michigan. A number of states -- including behemoths such as California and Florida -- are seeking to move up their primaries to early February.

"Everything is so compact," said Tom Rath, a New Hampshire political consultant who is working for former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney (R). "You've got to be competing everywhere across the board, right from the start."

To compete in those states, candidates are already confronting a daunting array of new expenses and demands that is creating a presidential sticker shock.

This year, candidates will need to hire more employees to wage battles in the growing number of early primaries. They will make unprecedented investments in computer technology to unlock clues to voter behavior.

They enter a 2008 field flush with political megastars who have set stratospheric fundraising goals. And the cost of such staples as television commercials will soar as candidates forgo public financing and the accompanying spending quotas.

That has meant candidates have started spending in those states earlier than ever. A full picture of that early activity will emerge more clearly in April, after most candidates have filed their first campaign reports.

But the 2006 expense reports released last week provide a glimpse at how aspirants have started spending their money. By the end of last year, budding contenders in the Democratic field had already written more than $660,000 in checks from their federal accounts to fund activities in key states -- more than twice what their counterparts spent in 2002 in the run-up to the 2004 presidential contest.

Steve Elmendorf, a deputy campaign manager in Kerry's 2004 bid, said campaigns are facing a series of escalating costs, including the "enormous expense" of building robust teams of political workers in four states at once.

"You need a big infrastructure in each one of these states," he said. "You need a press infrastructure, a political infrastructure, a fundraising infrastructure. And that takes people."


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