For Dole, Fame Surpasses Fund-Raising
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, May 19, 1999; Page A1
She started at the top. When Elizabeth Dole resigned as head of the American Red Cross early this year and said she might run for president, she moved immediately into contention in the polls.
Now comes the hard part. Five months later, her fund-raising lags far behind the other leaders -- fellow Republican George W. Bush and Democrats Al Gore and Bill Bradley. Her budget may not even be keeping pace with candidates far behind her in the polls. Dole is still piecing together her staff and building her organization -- the key position of finance chairman remains unfilled.
Were she anyone else, her puny bank account and inexperience as a candidate would make it hard for her to be ranked as a heavyweight. But she is Elizabeth Dole, one of the nation's most admired and popular women. When she speaks, people show up to listen, and the press pays attention. Recently, she has had a lot to say, on such subjects as gun control, Kosovo and abortion.
And so her campaign is a kind of grand experiment: Can a famous name and a good reputation overcome weaknesses that would normally be crippling?
Her campaign says yes.
Spokesman Ari Fleischer said this week that Dole's fund-raising "has accelerated dramatically" in recent weeks -- but that is from a virtual standstill. He held out the likelihood that Dole will have to put some of her own money into her campaign. Though Dole is running a strong second behind Bush in GOP polls, Fleischer declined to predict that she would finish that high in the mid-year fund-raising reports.
That is offset, though, by "her extraordinarily high name recognition and her favorability ratings," Fleischer said. Those are worth "$10 million or $15 million" -- the price, according to Fleischer, a lesser-known candidate would have to pay "just to pull even." The value of her name recognition, "plus the matching funds" that the federal government pays to qualified candidates, "keeps her in the race," he said.
However, conversations with a number of leading Republican strategists failed to turn up anyone who considers Dole more than a long shot. Most spoke of her as a vice presidential contender, and there was disagreement over whether a full-fledged campaign for the top spot would help her chances for that.
"Most people believe she's running for the No. 2 spot," said former Reagan administration official Tom Griscom.
A veteran of many campaigns, Charles Black praised Dole's ability to draw crowds and attract interest, but said, "The table stakes this year are very high. I think by the end of the year for anybody to be competitive, they better have something in the neighborhood of $20 million." Bush's campaign has set a goal of at least $50 million.
Lobbyist Tom Korologos, a key supporter of Dole's husband, Robert J. Dole, ranked her the highest, saying, "I think she's going to be on the ticket somewhere because she resonates with women and that's one big fat area where we Republicans are vulnerable."
Korologos is not raising money for Dole. Few of Robert Dole's top fund-raisers have agreed to raise major sums for his wife.
The former senator -- who won the GOP nomination in 1996 -- has some of the same reservations, according to an interview last week with the New York Times. "She's getting there," Robert Dole said of his candidate wife, and he added that he is not sure that she will formally enter the race. "If she can't raise the money obviously it's pretty hard to be a candidate."
This cloud of skepticism, coming from the candidate's husband, darkened Elizabeth Dole's campaign. She said yesterday that her husband is in "the family woodshed . . . he looks good in there," and she tried to defuse his doubts. Her staff has begun planning for a formal announcement of her candidacy this summer or early in the fall.
But Robert Dole was speaking in the voice of an expert in campaign realities. If the insiders all seem to have money on the brain, it is because changes to the primary schedule next year will force candidates to run faster, in more far-flung and populous states, than before. Primary voting in such key places as Florida, Texas, New York and California used to be spread out from early March until June. This year, it will all be done by March 14.
Traditionally, underfunded candidates focus on an early primary to create a breakthrough, using the "bounce" to raise more money and win more races. The 2000 primaries may be over too quickly for momentum to build.
Dole said last month that she had raised roughly $600,000 in the first quarter of this year, less than a tenth of what Bush had raised. She has since held fund-raising events in Washington, New York, Chicago and Detroit that have raised a total of $770,000, Fleischer said. Seven more are planned before the end of June. The campaign claims commitments from about 200 people to raise at least $10,000 each -- 25 of whom have signed up to raise $50,000 or more -- for a total perhaps in the $4 million range.
In each fund-raising category, she is far behind the second-place candidate in the Democratic polls, Bradley. Like Dole, Bradley entered the race with a measure of fame -- his from his days as a basketball star. Unlike Dole, Bradley is piling up dough.
Given that Bush has locked up most of the leading GOP fund-raisers, the Dole campaign plans to emphasize direct-mail solicitations. An early test, on a list of Republican donors, drew a strong response, campaign leaders say, and now Dole is running a test mailing to subscribers to women's magazines.
"If money is what it takes to win the nomination, then I don't see anyone passing Bush," said Dole spokesman Fleischer. "We happen to believe it takes ideas, too."
And so Dole has been more methodical -- and more aggressive -- than the other top-tier candidates in setting forth her positions. Her gun control platform drew scattered boos two weeks ago, but yesterday the position she took on child-safety locks was overwhelmingly endorsed by the Senate. She has urged the party to tone down its positions on abortion, she followed Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) in taking a hawkish line on the Kosovo crisis and she made a strong pitch for free trade.
Some 500 people turned out on May 7 to hear her at Loras College in Dubuque, Iowa. Earlier, she had drawn 200 people to an afternoon gathering in Clinton population 29,000. Iowa, traditionally the first caucus state, was always strong for Robert Dole, and observers there say his wife is building an operation worthy of the legacy.
"Every time I think about writing her off, I hear something impressive from out in the states -- she is being very well received out there," said Washington lobbyist Ed Rogers.
Sixteen years ago, one of the most famous and admired people in government ran for president. Astronaut, senator, all-around hero John Glenn ended his campaign trounced and deeply in debt. His name comes up frequently when the subject turns to Elizabeth Dole. The lesson: That while money isn't everything in politics, neither is celebrity.
© Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company