By Michael D. Shear and Anne E. Kornblut
Washington Post Staff Writers
Saturday, June 23, 2007
Twelve weeks ago, after raising less money than two other Republican candidates in the first three months of 2007, Sen. John McCain of Arizona, the early favorite for his party's presidential nomination, declared that it was his fault, said he hoped "to get better" at it and reorganized his finance team.
This week he said it hasn't worked out too well, acknowledging that raising money is "very tough" and allowing that "we weren't going to win this campaign on money anyway."
On the Democratic side, former senator John Edwards of North Carolina had vowed that he, too, would improve on a weak first-quarter showing. But this week, Joe Trippi, a senior aide, e-mailed supporters with news that the campaign is only two-thirds of the way to its relatively modest fundraising goal.
Edwards and McCain are two prominent victims of the widening money gap between the front-runners and the rest of the field, a separation that will be apparent when the campaigns file their fundraising reports on the second quarter, which ends next Saturday.
Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) and Barack Obama (D-Ill.) are each expected to hit the $25 million mark -- at least -- for money raised since April 1, a feat that reflects their continuing ability to reach deep into their Democratic constituency. Among the Republicans, former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney and former New York mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani are said to be repeating their impressive first-quarter takes.
Former senator Fred Thompson of Tennessee, who is not yet officially a GOP candidate, seems on track to reach his goal of raising about $5 million in just one month, according to advisers. And New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, who is barely registering in most polls, has told other Democrats that he expects to raise more money than Edwards this quarter.
But every candidate in the race -- 11 Republicans (including Thompson) and eight Democrats -- will spend the next week in a fundraising sprint.
After raising $13 million in the first quarter, McCain scheduled 28 fundraising events for June and has nine more to go, his spokesman said. Edwards, who took in $14 million last quarter, on Thursday embarked on his latest new-media fundraising pitch, a text-message initiative that directed supporters to a voice mail asking for financial support.
"I'm not asking you to help us outraise everyone else," the voice message says, according to a script distributed by the campaign. "I'm only asking you for what we need to get our message of real change out to voters in Iowa, New Hampshire and other key states nationwide."
Romney, the wealthiest candidate, has requested that hundreds of his supporters gather Monday at a sports arena in Boston to spend the day dialing for dollars. His campaign will give them breakfast and a "casual lunch," according to the invitation. The fundraisers are asked to bring their contact lists, a cell phone and -- anticipating a good day -- their phone chargers.
As the June 30 deadline approaches, the leading contenders are attempting to lower expectations of just how good their financial takes will be.
"It will be a challenge to match the number that we had in the first quarter," said Romney spokesman Kevin Madden.
Advisers to Clinton have suggested that her main fundraising rival, Obama, could outpace her for the quarter. The Obama team is staying quiet.
It's a different game for the financially struggling campaigns, which are already attempting to explain away their less-than-stellar performances.
Spokesmen for both McCain and Edwards insist that they will have enough money to campaign vigorously throughout the primary season. And they plan to stress that they have increased their overall number of donors, a key sign of grass-roots strength this early in the election process.
"When we started this campaign, we calculated that we would need to raise $40 million by the Iowa caucuses to get our day in the sun in each of the early states and win the nomination," Trippi wrote in his e-mail to supporters. "Right now, we're ahead of that pace."
Brian Jones, a McCain spokesman, said his candidate's "principled stands" on tough issues are to blame for the fundraising troubles, especially his push for broad changes in the nation's immigration laws.
"It's an issue that over the last month has not been a favorite of a decent number of GOP primary voters," Jones said. "I'll let you draw your own conclusions. We will have the resources necessary to communicate the senator's message."
The early start to the 2008 campaign and the large number of states holding their primaries next Feb. 5 require candidates to have huge bankrolls. And at this stage of the cycle, a campaign's fundraising ability becomes a measure of its overall success. "The money primary keeps going," said Alex Vogel, a GOP consultant not affiliated with any candidate. "It's more and more like law school -- there are no exams in between, and then at the end you get your final grade."
To fill that void, the campaigns are dreaming up novel fundraising schemes. Obama's team awarded dinner with the candidate to four small-dollar donors. A few Romney contributors went to a Red Sox game with Romney's son Tagg.
But the fundraising captains in both parties say the tried-and-true methods are still the ones that fill the coffers: cold calls, intimate gatherings with the candidates and mega-"rubber chicken" dinners in ballrooms.
"Anytime you can personally call versus sending a piece of mail, your response rate will go up five times," said Terry McAuliffe, a former Democratic National Committee chairman and veteran fundraiser who is now with the Clinton campaign.
As Dirk Van Dongen, a veteran lobbyist who is heading up Giuliani's Washington area fundraising, put it: "Selling is about getting a bunch of nos so you can get to the yeses."
Staff writer Dan Balz contributed to this report.