- The Washington Times - Friday, March 30, 2007

The presidential campaigns are in a mad dash for cash before tomorrow, the end of the all-important first fundraising quarter, and campaign pros and election watchers say the major candidates will have to show an ante of at least $10 million to prove they can compete for the nomination.

It’s already certain to be a record-breaking year in the money chase, and Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, New York Democrat, could raise more by herself in these first three months than the $27.4 million all nine candidates raised in total in the first quarter of the 2003 campaign. That year, then-Sen. John Edwards led the pack with $7.4 million in the first quarter.

Michael Toner, former chairman of the Federal Election Commission, said he expects to see multiple candidates in each party file reports showing that they have raised at least $30 million, and said that will up the ante required of the other campaigns.

“For a candidate that is unable to raise at least $10 million by the end of March, it’s likely to be very difficult,” he said. “If you have a candidate that’s raised $3-4 million running against a candidate that’s raised $30-40 million, that’s very difficult arithmetic.”

Campaign aides agreed.

“First-quarter numbers are probably going to somewhat cement the first tier, and anybody who comes in single digits will probably indicate they’re just not in it for the long haul, they’re not prepared to run a national campaign,” said one official from a first-tier Republican campaign, who asked not to be named in order to speak more freely about finances.

On the other side are the shoestring budget campaigns, which are hoping to show they can at least remain in the race and drive their message by relying on grass-roots support.

“Grass-roots candidates have to be looking at being able to raise $1 million in a quarter,” said Bay Buchanan, who ran three campaigns for her brother Pat and who is now senior adviser to Rep. Tom Tancredo’s exploratory bid.

Mr. Tancredo, Colorado Republican, passed the $1 million mark and will report about $1.3 million, Mrs. Buchanan said. She said raising $1 million a quarter gives a grass-roots campaign $4 million at the end of the year, which would qualify for $2 million in matching funds, which is enough to stay in the race.

In addition to campaign staffs, the next big expense for Republicans will be Iowa’s straw poll, scheduled for August. Mrs. Buchanan said the top-tier campaigns could end up spending $5 million to organize for the straw poll, while the other campaigns will have to spend between $250,000 and $400,000 to make their mark.

Facing those sorts of costs, Mr. Toner said both parties could well be winnowed down after April 15, the day the first-quarter numbers are actually due to be filed with the Federal Election Commission.

But preliminary numbers will start to trickle out over the next few days. On Wednesday, Sen. Barack Obama, Illinois Democrat, sent out a last e-mail appeal, but said he would not talk about totals raised so far. Instead, he released the number of individuals he said have contributed: 74,089, far more than the 5,600 or so donors Mr. Edwards and Sen. John Kerry each showed four years ago.

Even as he was making his appeal for money, Mr. Obama argued he is above the dollar chase.

“As we approach March 31st, when campaigns have to file their quarterly fundraising reports, the press and pundits start to obsess over the chase for money,” he said, adding that he was going to do something different. “We’re not going to talk about the dollars raised until the reporting period is over.”

Big numbers don’t necessarily mean victory.

Mrs. Buchanan recalled the 1996 Republican race, when then-Sen. Phil Gramm of Texas raised more than $4 million at one event and argued he was the strongest candidate because he had $20 million in the bank. Running a shoestring campaign, Mr. Buchanan defeated Mr. Gramm in Louisiana’s primary, delivering a blow from which Mr. Gramm would not recover.

Mrs. Buchanan said that proves there’s an opening for a grass-roots campaign.

“If I had my druthers I’d have $5 million or $30 million. I don’t. But I’ve never been with a grass-roots candidate that did,” she said.

Some candidates are already indicating they will have poor first-quarter numbers. Though he declared his intention to explore a bid nine weeks ago, former Virginia Gov. James S. Gilmore III held his first fundraiser just this week, raising a reported $200,000.

Other candidates say they have good reasons why they won’t have kept up with Mrs. Clinton.

Pahl Shipley, spokesman for New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, said their campaign got a late start due to the legislative session, but said they expect to be competitive.

“We’ve had the exploratory committee for just two months and we’re doing very well,” Mr. Shipley said.

Still others will post sizable figures that will keep them viable.

Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, for example, raised $6.5 million in his first fundraiser in Boston in January — a take nearly equal to Mr. Edwards’ entire 2003 first-quarter take.

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