Former Senate majority leader Robert J. Dole has begun an aggressive campaign to coax money from the Republican establishment to keep his wife's underfunded presidential campaign going, according to GOP sources.
Despite her strong showing in last month's Iowa straw poll, and national surveys that show her running a distant second in the GOP field, top advisers told Elizabeth Dole she would have to consider quitting the race if she does not have adequate financing. The unprecedented fund-raising advantage of Texas Gov. George W. Bush was the major factor in that analysis.
At the end of June, Bush had raised more than $37 million, compared with Dole's $3.5 million. Since then, the gap has widened, as Bush has pushed his total past $52 million. The candidates are required to report their finances again at the end of the month.
Bob Dole's fund-raising efforts reflect the stepped-up role he is playing in his wife's campaign, which also includes participation in strategy meetings. "The senator's role has increased dramatically since the straw poll," one key Dole supporter said.
Some Dole supporters believe the former senator's activity represents "penance" for earlier comments critical of his wife's campaign, while others say he was invigorated by the results of the Iowa straw poll. But his involvement also reflects his concern that a lack of money could cripple her efforts to compete when the primary and caucus season begins next winter.
Dole is tapping his enormous range of contacts inside the party, built over a long career that culminated in his winning the Republican nomination for president in 1996.
The vast majority of his former fund-raisers support Bush. So Dole has been contacting them to argue that it is essential to keep his wife's candidacy alive because it is good for the image of the GOP and is drawing new support, especially from women. The party will benefit from her candidacy no matter who wins the nomination, Dole has argued in his sales pitches.
For example, the Doles recently asked for a meeting with former Republican party chairman Haley Barbour, a key Bush supporter who has raised large sums for the Texas governor. Bob Dole appealed to Barbour for help in turning on the GOP money spigot.
Barbour would not confirm that the meeting occurred; a source knowledgeable about the exchange said Barbour agreed that Elizabeth Dole's candidacy is good for the party, but he offered little hope of a major influx of money.
Earlier, according to one source close to the Dole campaign, the former senator sat down with hundreds of pages of names -- the list of donors filed by Bush with the Federal Election Commission. He noted the names of his past supporters who were giving to Bush and sent off letters soliciting support for his wife.
Using the Bush filing to solicit money for his wife could be a violation of FEC regulations, which say that "any information copied, or otherwise obtained" from FEC reports "shall not be . . . used by any person for the purpose of soliciting contributions."
"I do know that he sent out a number of letters to ask Dole supporters from his campaign" for money, said one Bush adviser. "There may be some overlap. I don't know that he specifically went through Bush's donor list."
The Post made repeated calls seeking comment from the former senator and the Dole campaign. But there was no response.
One Bush supporter said, "Bob Dole is calling around to people and saying he talked to people near the Bush campaign and that they think it's great for Elizabeth to be in the race and stay in the race and that if they've given to Bush they should give money to Elizabeth because it's good for the party and good for Bush."
The candidate is resolved to press ahead. "This thing is full speed ahead," said Tony Fabrizio, a top Dole strategist who also said he knew of no advisers warning Dole she might have to quit the race unless the fund-raising improves dramatically.
"We do face reality from the standpoint of we're not going to have $60 million like Bush, he added. "But we have other strengths that other candidates in the race do not have to bring to bear."
Elizabeth Dole gave the first in a promised series of major policy speeches this week -- on education -- and plans another on foreign policy on Monday. As the Sept. 30 third-quarter deadline nears, she is aggressively trying to raise money, targeting nontraditional donors, such as female entrepreneurs and sorority sisters.
Dole, however, has yet to set a date for a formal announcement, although her advisers said it would likely be later in October.
While declining to discuss whether he met with the Doles, Barbour said he did not think her money problems are fatal. "There is a huge appetite for her candidacy," Barbour said. "It has energized a lot of Republicans who have not been this engaged before, and also a lot of people who like her that have not been Republicans. Whether she gets nominated or not, her candidacy helps every Republican on the ballot."
Asked whether it would be possible for party leaders to activate a major burst of money for a trailing candidate at this point, Barbour said "not in my experience." But he added that Dole can get more bang for her buck than many candidates because "she is newsworthy, she is telegenic and she can get on television."