- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Republicans’ presidential field may be wide, but this weekend’s fundraising numbers show it is not deep.

Other than Mitt Romney, Rudolph W. Giuliani and John McCain, no Republican raised $2 million or had $1 million cash on hand as of March 31, making it nearly impossible for them to challenge the top three candidates.

“At this point, there is no second tier in the Republican Party,” said one longtime campaign observer who spoke on the condition he not be named in order to give a straightforward assessment. “It’s really more of a first tier and a third tier.”

Sen. Sam Brownback, Kansas Republican, led the pack of challengers with $1.9 million raised, but he reported already spending $1.1 million of that. Coming in next was Rep. Tom Tancredo, Colorado Republican, with $1.3 million raised, who beat the three former governors who had been expected to fill out the second tier: James S. Gilmore III of Virginia, Tommy Thompson of Wisconsin and Mike Huckabee of Arkansas, all of whom raised less than $600,000.

“Our game plan has always been to establish ourselves as the top of the second tier. You have to do that to take on the top tier,” said Bay Buchanan, an adviser to Mr. Tancredo’s campaign. “We expected the second tier to be more competitive.”

She said this summer’s Iowa straw poll will be the next chance for candidates to challenge the top tier.

The campaigns had to file reports with the Federal Election Commission (FEC) showing their fundraising and spending from Jan. 1 through March 31.

Bringing up the rear of the Republican pack is Mr. Gilmore, who announced in December he would set up an exploratory committee but since then has raised only $203,896, spent $113,789 and had another $88,013 in debts.

Christian Josi, an adviser to his campaign, said Mr. Gilmore only set up a serious operation last month and most of his fundraising was from one event in late March in Richmond.

“We really didn’t set out to play the first quarter fundraising game because we had a lot of things to accomplish in that month,” he said, adding that Mr. Gilmore and the other lower-tier candidates will have a chance to make their case at next month’s first debate at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation and Library.

Mr. Gilmore doesn’t sound like a man ready to give in. On Saturday, he told Iowa Republicans at the state party’s Lincoln Day Dinner to expect him back in the state soon to make a major announcement — presumably that he is moving from an exploratory committee to a full-fledged run.

“Our goal with the exploratory committee was to raise enough money to staff up, do the polling, see if it’s viable. We’ve come to the conclusion that it’s very viable and will proceed accordingly,” Mr. Josi said.

In contrast to Republicans, the FEC numbers showed a solid middle tier for the Democratic field, comprised of Sen. Christopher J. Dodd of Connecticut and New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson.

Mr. Dodd reported $8.8 million in receipts, including a transfer from his Senate campaign account, and $7.5 million on hand. Mr. Richardson reported $6.2 million raised and $5 million left in cash.

As on the Republican side, Democrats have three candidates who crossed the threshold of $10 million raised, putting them in the top competitive tier: Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York, Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois and former Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina.

Campaign operatives said it will be much tougher for less-funded candidates to make a mark this year, given the group of major states with early primaries and given the fact that the top candidates will not be taking part in public financing. That means anyone who does take public financing will be tying his hands in the months between the primaries and the nominating conventions.

Some campaign veterans said Mr. McCain’s numbers mean he has fallen into the second tier of Republicans, with just $5.2 million cash on hand and $1.8 million in reported debt, while others said he’s in even worse shape.

“McCain’s done,” said one former Republican congressman as he looked at the numbers.

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