Low on Cash, Ferraro Struggles To Stay Ahead of Primary Foes
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, July 17, 1998; Page A02
NEW YORK, July 16Geraldine A. Ferraro, the one Democratic candidate in the Senate primary whose face is famous enough to turn heads on the streets of New York, boasted this week about how well her campaign is going.
"I'm 20 to 30 points ahead of my two opponents in the primary, which is fabulous," Ferraro told a group of elderly people at the Jewish Home for the Aged in the Bronx.
Fabulous, however, is not the word pollsters and political oddsmakers are using to characterize Ferraro's bid for the seat held by Sen. Alfonse M. D'Amato (R).
Six months after her announcement made her the front-runner in one of the nation's most watched Senate contests, the former vice presidential nominee and former CNN talking-head is struggling to raise money, has switched campaign managers, has failed to win much support from the state Democratic Party and according to a poll released today is beginning to lose ground among likely primary voters.
A Quinnipiac College poll, based on phone interviews last week with registered Democrats, shows that the "20 to 30 point" lead that Ferraro bragged about has slipped to 11 percentage points.
Moving up smartly on Ferraro is Rep. Charles E. Schumer, a veteran Brooklyn congressman with a large campaign war chest. Schumer has spent about $2 million in the past three months, mostly on television ads. That equals the total amount of money Ferraro has raised since January, when she said her campaign would raise about $5 million before the Sept. 15 primary. She nows says she doesn't need that much money.
Helped by his ads, Schumer has climbed over the third Democrat in the race, New York City Public Advocate Mark Green, into second place behind Ferraro, according to the Quinnipiac poll. It showed Ferraro with a 39 percent to 28 percent lead over Schumer, with Green at 24 percent.
Both Schumer and Green have moved up in the past month. A poll in June found that Schumer trailed Ferraro by 27 points, while Green trailed by 23 points.
"The assessment of the Ferraro campaign among political pros is that it has been unfocused, while Representative Schumer has concentrated on appeals to those crucial primary voters," said Maurice Carroll, director of the Quinnipiac poll.
Asked to explain why Ferraro has raised less money than either Schumer ($12.1 million) or Green ($2.5 million), Democratic political consultant Vincent Montalbano said: "It means she has been away from politics for a long time. It means she started late. It might mean that some people don't think she is a good investment."
Ferraro today dismissed the new poll, saying "it isn't a big deal."
"I am always double-digits ahead of my Democratic opponents and I am the only one who beats Al D'Amato going head to head," Ferraro said, adding that Schumer's movement in the poll is merely a function of his TV spending. "Chuck has been on the air. In total, I think he has spent about $3.5 million on advertising and I haven't spent a dime."
Ferraro said she anticipated trouble raising money because of her late start: "I knew what I was getting into. I am a nonincumbent. People who are friends of mine, they said, 'Oh, God, Gerry, we are already committed to someone else.' They said that as soon as the primary is over, they will come around to me."
Ferraro's estimate that she needed $5 million for the primary campaign was incorrect, she explained today, because it assumed that she would be running an expensive telemarketing fund-raising effort. She said that she has opted not to raise money by mass telephoning and added that she is running a less costly campaign than she expected.
"I'm doing the campaign a lot differently," said Ferraro, referring to her unsuccessful run in 1992 for the Democratic Senate nomination in New York. "What I need is enough money to get on television in the four weeks before the primary. I will have enough."
Pollsters, political analysts and Ferraro herself agreed this week that New York voters have yet to focus on the campaign, which is expected to be one of the costliest Senate races in history. "They are more interested in what is going on at the beach," Ferraro said.
Personalities aside, there is not much that separates the three Democratic candidates on issues. They hold broadly similar views on education, access to health care and promoting jobs for the middle class. Green said this week in a campaign speech that there is "no galvanizing national or state issue" in the campaign.
The major goal of each candidate is to survive the primary sufficiently unscathed and with enough money to mount a credible challenge to D'Amato, the three-term incumbent. Despite having no primary opponent, D'Amato has already raised $21.4 million and has spent nearly $9 million.
"This campaign has not connected with the voters. It is a late primary and it is resulting in not much attentiveness," said Lee Miringoff, director of the Marist Institute for Public Opinion in Poughkeepsie, N.Y. "The whole thing is likely to become very fluid. A lot of sloshing around of voters is to be expected before September."
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