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GOP coming up short

- The Washington Times - Monday, July 9, 2007

Do you feel that? The ground quivering beneath you? It's not an earthquake or the political equivalent of an electoral landslide this early in the presidential sweepstakes. It's all the people running to the Democratic candidates as shown by the enormous aggregate amount they have raised since January. People are eager to vote with their pocketbooks this election.

In the all-American financial arms race, there are early signs of a growing shift in the 2008 presidential landscape — one that could move us closer to a Democratic victory next November. Illinois Sen. Barack Obama's record-breaking sum of $31 million in primary money is one. In addition, Mr. Obama has another 150,000 donors, which will provide his campaign with the broadest financial base of volunteers for the caucuses and primaries.

New York Sen. Hillary Clinton's campaign also announced that it raised $27 million over the last three months — even more than it raised in its record-setting first quarter — for a total of $53 million. This demonstrates the Democrats are not only flowing with cash and will be able to compete effectively for primary voters, but that they may be able to defend themselves against early attacks from their Republican opponents.

Even more impressive: Democratic candidates have made solid in-roads into the once-limited world of business and are chipping away at the Republicans' always-loyal cash cow. This means that even first-tier Republicans entering this contest have arrived at a major crossroads that might force some of them to short-circuit their political ambitions to become the next commander in chief. Just look at their dismal showing this quarter.

Former Gov. Mitt Romney is reporting raising only $14 million from April to June. But what's surprising is that he loaned his campaign a hefty $6.5 million to keep the show on the road. Just last quarter, Mr. Romney raised more than $20 million that he started using immediately to build his name recognition and campaign organization in some early states. At least Mr. Romney is still relevant and on the air with biographical spots. Arizona Sen. John McCain, the straight shooter, must now face some music of his own making.

Terry Nelson, Mr. McCain's campaign manager, is shrugging off his bleak prospects. Mr. Nelson told some reporters recently the campaign made "incorrect assumptions" about its fund-raising ability. "At one point, we believed that we would raise over $100 million during this calendar year, and we constructed a campaign that was based on that assumption," Mr. Nelson said. The truth is that Mr. McCain was the presumptive front-runner but is now holding on for a second wind and perhaps federal matching funds.

Rudy Giuliani, the other so-called Republican front-runner, waited until Mr. McCain and Mr. Romney released their figures to report just more than $15 million. Despite being the front-runner in the polls, Mr. Giuliani is still struggling to get back on message and avoid talking about social issues.

The Republican front-runners' money problem reflects a much bigger one: Voters are simply not satisfied with the choices they are told to make. According to a new CBS poll, 61 percent of likely Republican primary voters are dissatisfied with the choices they have for the nomination. Now these voters have decided to hold back where it hurts the candidates the most.

At this point in the political season, the entire Republican field is second-tier when compared with the team Democrats are fielding. And speaking of money, the official lineup of "second-tier" Republican candidates (read: Mike Huckabee, Tommy Thompson, Duncan Hunter, Ron Paul, Sam Brownback, Tom Tancredo and James Gilmore) is getting closer to political oblivion.

The candidates are not alone out there struggling to stay relevant. The Republican National Committee is having its worst fund-raising year at this point since the new campaign laws were passed. And, thus, the worst since Mr. Bush became president.

The RNC has always raised more than the Democratic National Committee, but the DNC has narrowed the gap from $34 million in 2003 to $15 million in 2007. The three federal committees together have virtually matched the Republican committees.

Voters are voting with their pocketbooks and sending sweet kisses to the Democratic side to get its act together. These voters are dissatisfied not only with the direction of the country but with the president, who they believe is out of touch. They are actively seeking alternatives, searching the entire Republican Party for someone who brings back another era, when it was always "morning in America" and the commander in chief was the true decider.

Even with the entry of former senator and Hollywood actor Fred Thompson of Tennessee or the erstwhile former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, they might still come up empty-handed. If I were a Republican consultant, I would advise my candidate to make a strong argument on why they offer a new direction and not just more George Bush, otherwise, the general election will be decided right before the balloon drop at the Democratic Nominating Convention.

I assume the race will tighten as it continues, but I don't anticipate any of the Republican candidates polling in the single digits to be a major force in the election. Though you know what they say about assumptions.

Donna Brazile is a political commentator on CNN, ABC and National Public Radio and former campaign manager for Al Gore.