Vice President Gore's campaign yesterday reported a sluggish fund-raising performance for the last three months, forcing top advisers to acknowledge that they are essentially running even with former senator Bill Bradley in the money race and will now have to continue collecting checks even as the primary season opens early next year.
The Gore campaign outlined a revised less ambitious money plan for the top-heavy operations after disclosing that it has collected about $24 million total but has only about $10 million of that left in the bank. Bradley has not yet revealed his fund-raising performance for the third quarter that ends today, but advisers to both candidates said yesterday that they expect the former New Jersey senator to show a comparable bank account.
Even with Gore's dramatic announcement that he was moving his campaign headquarters to Nashville--potentially a cost-cutting move in the fight against Bradley--the vice president's campaign is also anxiously watching the unprecedented fund-raising by Republican front-runner George W. Bush, whose campaign is on track to report having collected some $55 million so far.
"The fund-raising is very broad and it is very deep," Bush finance chairman Donald L. Evans said in a phone interview yesterday, en route to one of several fund-raisers that are expected to bring more than $1 million to the campaign this week. "In each and every state, we're into record territory."
After shattering the previous primary fund-raising record by the end of June, Bush decided to opt out of the public funding system, meaning that in exchange for forgoing about $13 million in government funds he will not be limited to an overall spending ceiling of about $40 million.
Bush's lead is so commanding that the other GOP candidates are struggling for a very distant second place. Final numbers were not available yesterday, but Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) appeared on track to report raising close to $3 million in the third quarter, sources said, likely enough to put him ahead of all but Bush and millionaire Steve Forbes, who is spending freely from his own pocket.
In the Democratic race, a top Gore adviser detailed a retooled fund-raising strategy that recognizes the new math imposed by the vice president's slower-than-expected start and more-costly-than-expected operation.
Instead of wrapping up fund-raising for the primary by November, as once envisioned, the plan now is for Gore to raise an additional $4 million by the end of this year, leaving him with close to $3 million still to raise in 2000. That money is to be collected largely through direct mail and the efforts of Tipper Gore, but it could still be expensive and a time drain with the first primary looming on Feb. 1 and other major contests soon to follow.
Overall, the adviser said, Gore expects to have about $10 million in the bank at the start of January. Combined with federal matching funds of about $13.5 million, Gore will have about $23 million to spend against Bradley in the intense primary campaign air wars. It is not clear what the Bradley team's budget for that key period is, though strategists in both camps said it was possible Bradley could have as much to spend as Gore.
"What is now clear is that money is not going to distinguish the two," said one Bradley adviser. "The race is not going to be decided by a Gore financial advantage. The real shocker, if you think about where we were several months ago, is that Bradley will be able to compete on even terms."
Several Gore fund-raisers agreed that they have watched an advantage they planned on slip away, and it was unclear how dramatically the campaign will be able to cut back on its expenditures by moving to Nashville. Some other cost-cutting measures are already being put into effect, including paring the staff on the vice president's plane from six aides to three and ending the contracts as of this month for a number of outside fund-raising consultants.
"It appears desperate," said one Gore fund-raiser of the move to Tennessee. The $6.5 million raised by the campaign from July through September represents "a big drop-off in what they planned on," he said, and well below what Gore collected in either of the first two quarters of this year.
A top Gore adviser cited traditionally slow summer fund-raising as one reason for the low performance and attributed the heavy spending to the unusually early-starting presidential contest. "It's the balance you're stuck with if you start a campaign in January, and ramp it up the way we have," he said.
Spending has also gone up for the Bradley team, according to senior adviser Anita Dunn, who said that Bradley "spent more in the third quarter than we ever have before," reflecting new full-time offices in Iowa and New Hampshire, a campaign kickoff in Bradley's home town of Crystal City, Mo., and a week-long canvass of voters in New Hampshire.
"We'll be competitive" with the Gore fund-raising, Dunn said. "We are on track to raise the $20 million to $25 million that this campaign has said we need to raise this year."
Bradley's effort has relied on a network of sports celebrities tied to him since his days as a New York Knick for some of his unexpectedly strong fund-raising, including what the campaign said was its biggest event of the last few months: a July fund-raiser in Chicago called "hoopla" with NBA stars that attracted more than 800 people.
Staff writer Ceci Connolly contributed to this report.