- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 18, 2009

RICHMOND | As soon as the 2008 election ended, Virginia’s gubernatorial candidates sought big donors for the millions they need to run for the office.

Though the flow to cash doubled its pace the final four months of 2008, it wasn’t the robust launch to which candidates are accustomed.

Blame the worst economic downturn in decades.

In 2004, donors from September through December gave more than $3.6 million to four candidates, 23 percent more than the total given the preceding eight months, according to State Board of Elections filings released last week.

Last year, the slightly less than $3.4 million given in the final trimester was only 11 percent greater than the $3 million given from January through August. It came amid the Wall Street collapse, the banking crisis and rising unemployment.

The number would likely be even lower if not for former Democratic National Chairman Terry R. McAuliffe’s late entry in the race and the nearly $947,000 he raised in about six weeks.

“This is the most challenging fundraising climate I have seen … ever,” said Matt Felan, chief fundraiser for Gov. Tim Kaine’s Moving Virginia Forward political action committee and for the state’s House Democratic Caucus.

Phil Cox, a longtime Republican strategist who runs Republican Robert F. McDonnell’s campaign for governor, has found the same thing.

“What we’re running into … is donors who were previously $50,000 donors who are still giving, but they’re giving less,” he said.

In addition to the poor economy as a factor, more of Virginia’s deep-pocket donors are simply tapped out. President-elect Barack Obama’s vigorous campaign last year ended 40 years of Republican dominance in Virginia presidential races. Because of it, Mr. Felan said, “people were getting hit up that much harder.”

It takes tens of millions of dollars to run a modern gubernatorial campaign in Virginia. Four years ago, it cost nearly $50 million, a record.

What candidates cannot raise in Virginia they will hunt for out of state, Mr. Cox said.

Mr. McDonnell raised nearly 21 percent of the $2.1 million he received the last six months of 2008 outside of Virginia, and an aggressive out-of-state fundraising program is part of his plan in an off-year election that has national importance.

Because Mr. Kaine is the new head of the Democratic National Committee, he is expected to extend a string of party victories in his state into next November, and his DNC post affords him millions of dollars to underwrite the eventual Democratic nominee.

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