Gore, Bush Are Ahead Of Field in Cash Crops
By Susan B. Glasser and Ceci Connolly
In a campaign where both Gore and Bush have vowed to shatter fund-raising records, the two camps claimed wide leads over their Democratic and Republican rivals in their first-quarter reports -- the first barometer of financial prowess in this early-starting election season.
"It's an important benchmark because of the financial demands of this process," said Anthony Corrado, a campaign finance expert at Colby College. "They need to show brisk fund-raising early on and that's what the front-runners are doing."
Gore, mining his Tennessee connections and President Clinton's donor network, aims to have $55 million in the bank in early 2000. He is relying on a team of "solicitors," each of whom has pledged to raise $50,000.
Bush, an accomplished fund-raiser with a base in contribution-rich Texas and a national family network, took in the $6 million without holding any events. Although it fell short of the $8.6 million first-quarter record set by Sen. Phil Gramm (R-Tex.) four years ago, Bush yesterday proclaimed his total "a great start."
Bush's campaign has mapped out an ambitious fund-raising plan to collect as much as $32 million by the end of 1999. Advisers say he is considering opting out of the presidential public financing system, which would enable him to spend unlimited amounts of money next year but would mean forgoing about $15 million in matching funds.
While it is still 11 months until the first caucuses of 2000, the financial reports begin to shed light on which hopefuls have what it takes to be viable candidates next year.
Former senator Bill Bradley (D-N.J.), who aides say has raised close to $4 million, has demonstrated Gore does not have a total lock on the Democratic financial network. On the GOP side, Senate Commerce Committee Chairman John McCain (R-Ariz.), who has raised between $3 million and $4 million, appears to be second to Bush, although that is due in large part to a $2 million transfer from his Senate campaign account.
Two GOP contenders expected to be proficient fund-raisers offered surprisingly low totals: Elizabeth Dole, who has raised "mid-six figures"; and Lamar Alexander, whose $700,000 to $800,000 pales in comparison to the $5.2 million he raised in the first quarter of 1995.
None of the figures is final; checks were still streaming into the campaigns yesterday, the last day of the first quarter. The reports, with details on contributors and spending, will not be filed at the Federal Election Commission until April 15.
With 11 potential GOP candidates in fierce competition for cash, rivals were quick to suggest Bush's early success is not the final gauge of financial viability. "The second quarter is more meaningful," said Alexander aide Steve Schmidt.
Even so, Bush is likely to post outsized leads later this year. "A number of candidates are going to mount serious campaigns and have the necessary funds to do that," said Lawrence Bathgate, a veteran Republican fund-raiser from New Jersey being wooed by several possible candidates. "But will they have as much as George W. Bush? Probably not."
Several GOP hopefuls who raised in the $1.5 million range said they do not need to keep pace with the early leaders; they just need enough money to get their message out.
"What our $1.3 million illustrates is that we are competitive," said House Budget Committee Chairman John R. Kasich from a fund-raising trip in California. Spending more than half his time on raising money, Kasich said most of that $1.3 million has come from his home state of Ohio.
Former Vice President Dan Quayle has raised about $2 million but only has $500,000 cash on hand, said campaign manager Kyle McSlarrow. "Our philosophy has been to put together an organization as quickly as possible," said McSlarrow. "You'll see others stockpile funds, but I'm doing a lot of investing early."
The first financial measure also provides a window into the candidates' strategies. Gary Bauer, former head of the conservative Family Research Council, raised nearly all of his $1.4 million through direct mail. And Patrick J. Buchanan raised about $500,000, $250,000 of it cash on hand, also largely through direct mail. "I don't anticipate any $1 million Waldorf-Astoria dinners," said spokesman Scott Mackenzie.
Several Republican contenders have put off splashy fund-raising galas until later this year. Dole's kickoff, for example, will be a 12-city whirlwind starting April 27 with a dinner here. And the Alexander campaign's financial debut will be a May 4 dinner at Nashville's Opryland Hotel that aims to raise "north of $2 million," said Ted Welch, Alexander's finance chairman.
One GOP campaign faces a different sort of fund-raising quandary. Malcolm S. "Steve" Forbes is rich enough to fund his entire effort himself and while his advisers insist he plans to aggressively pursue contributions, they haven't shown up yet. "The numbers will not be significant," spokeswoman Juleanna Glover said of their first-quarter report.
© Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company