Democrat Bill Bradley and Republican John McCain have translated their political momentum in New Hampshire into a national money boost for the final three months of this year, with both campaigns posting their best fund-raising performances yet and Bradley pulling all but even with Vice President Gore in total money raised.
The numbers they announced yesterday offered a dollars-and-cents picture of how the two outsiders have transformed the 2000 presidential primaries by narrowing the gap with establishment front-runners Gore and George W. Bush (R). In Bradley's case, he has now outpaced the incumbent vice president in fund-raising for two quarters in a row, raising more than $8 million since September compared with $4 million for Gore.
Indeed, Bradley's year-end total puts him at between $27 million and $28 million overall--bringing him essentially even with Gore's $28 million total for 1999 and providing an unanticipated end to a money chase that Gore had once expected to lead by a lopsided amount.
McCain's fund-raising surge in the last few months has been even more rapid than that of Bradley, taking him from $3 million raised in the third quarter to $6.1 million raised in October, November and December. But McCain's total of $15.6 million for the year still leaves him lagging far behind Bush, the best-financed primary candidate in history with about $65 million raised so far.
McCain has also already spent most of his newly raised money, leaving him with just $1.5 million in the bank and about $6.2 million in anticipated federal matching funds headed into the hectic primary season that begins Feb. 1. In the Democratic race, both candidates are expected to have just under $20 million--including matching funds--to spend during the period from late January to early March, when the nomination will be decided.
The Bush campaign did not disclose its fund-raising total yesterday. As of two weeks ago, the Texas governor had already collected $63 million--more than double what any primary candidate has ever collected. With such an enormous bank account, Bush's advisers were dismissive of McCain's success this quarter, arguing that even if McCain does well in the early primaries of New Hampshire and South Carolina, he will not have the cash to capitalize on it.
"As far as resources," said Bush spokeswoman Mindy Tucker, "he's only set up to run in two or three states." Another senior Bush official noted that McCain's $1.5 million cash on hand is less than the $2 million McCain transferred from his Senate campaign account at the beginning of this year to jump-start his presidential effort; without that infusion of cash, "he would be in the red," the Bush adviser said.
McCain advisers said they expected their fund-raising successes to continue and intensify next year. "I don't think that's the case that this is simply enough to fund us in New Hampshire and South Carolina, given the pace of fund-raising we've seen," said McCain finance chairman Herb Allison. Allison called McCain "the only candidate who has had accelerating momentum in the fourth quarter--both in the polls and in fund-raising"--and predicted that would continue as "this candidate gets through to more and more people."
The dramatic increase in the amount of money flowing to this year's candidates is not purely a Bush phenomenon. Fueled by a strong economy, well-heeled givers have opened their checkbooks in unexpected numbers for both parties this year, challenging inside-the-Beltway assumptions about what it is possible for a presidential campaign to raise.
Indeed, both Bradley and Gore have collected several million dollars more in this pre-election year than the $25.7 million President Clinton raised in 1995 at a time when he was an incumbent famous for his fund-raising prowess.
It was only in the last few months, however, that Bradley and McCain have seen significantly more resources flowing to their campaigns, both insurgent efforts that have emphasized the need for campaign finance reform even as the candidates have aggressively raised money to keep themselves competitive.
When the 2000 money chase began in earnest in March, both Bush and Gore aspired to collect more checks than ever before and to do so earlier. At the time, Bush's advisers were talking about a $32 million year. Instead, they took in $37 million by June 30, announcing that same day that they would forgo $13 million in federal matching funds in order to raise and spend unlimited amounts in the primary campaign.
Gore's team, meanwhile, never considered opting out of the public financing system but planned to raise its $32 million maximum and have far more to spend than Bradley. In fact, one Gore fund-raiser recalled, the vice president's advisers were bragging that they would raise that amount by the end of September. "I thought it was crazy," he said.
Instead, Gore spokesman Christopher Lehane said yesterday that Gore was on track to meet by year's end the revised budget of $28 million that the campaign set out in September, when the vice president moved his high-spending campaign to lower-cost Tennessee and jettisoned a number of pricey consultants.
"The momentum is in his corner," said another Gore adviser of Bradley's fund-raising performance. "The only question is: Can it continue?"
All along, Bradley's team publicly aimed for $25 million. "At this time a year ago," Bradley national finance director Rick Wright said yesterday, "we had raised $67,000." By June, Wright said, it was clear the Bradley team could raise significant amounts of money even with traditional Democratic givers locked up by Gore. "We went outside the usual list. We made our own organization out of our own Rolodexes."
Each quarter, Bradley raised more than in the previous period. By this fall, with polls showing him even with or ahead of Gore in New Hampshire, the former New Jersey senator raised twice as much as the vice president even as the campaign started spending money in earnest: $10.4 million went out the door in just three months. "They spent a lot of money early," Wright said of Gore's campaign. "It put us in a position to be able to spend more now."
Information was not available yesterday for several of the other GOP candidates, including free-spending millionaire Steve Forbes, who has largely self-financed his campaign and is also opting out of the public financing system. Republican Gary Bauer's campaign manager said he has collected about $7 million this year, $1.7 million this quarter.
The numbers released by the campaigns yesterday are estimates of their year-end totals; official reports to the Federal Election Commission are not due until Jan. 31. Meanwhile, the candidates are permitted to continue raising money in the new year.
CAPTION: Sen. John McCain collected $6.1 million in most recent quarter but has only $1.5 million in the bank.