2008 Hopefuls Seek Donors in 'Campaign Within Campaign'
(CNSNews.com) - The first vote won't be cast until next January, but the first competition in the long road to the White House ends this weekend. That's the contest in which Americans vote with their pocketbooks, and presidential aspirants have been scouring the country to add more money to their first quarter fundraising report.
"The first fundraising quarter is really like a first primary," Anthony Corrado, a campaign finance expert and government professor at Colby College in Waterville, Maine, told Cybercast News Service. "It's a campaign within the campaign. They want to use their fundraising to tell a story about their campaigns."
Fundraising can tell a story about how sustainable a candidacy will be and whether it meets expectations. A better-than-expected showing could propel a candidate into more serious consideration by the public, media and other donors.
A showing that falls below expectations could raise questions about a candidate's viability. Presidential hopefuls have until April 15 to report to the Federal Elections Commission what they raised during the first three months of the year, ending March 31.
On the Republican side, Arizona Sen. John McCain, former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney are expected to far surpass the fundraising of other GOP candidates.
The same is predicted to be true for Democratic Sens. Hillary Clinton of New York, Barack Obama of Illinois and former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards, compared to the other Democrats competing for the party's nomination.
Romney campaign spokesman Alex Burgos told Cybercast News Service that the candidate did not expect to lead the fundraising rankings.
"It's a universally accepted fact, with his current standing in the polls and current name recognition, Sen. McCain and Mayor Giuliani will lead the first quarter," Burgos said.
"Given the challenges of name identification and being unknown to much of the public -- nothing is public yet, but if Gov. Romney reaches $15 million this early in the campaign, he would be doing quite well," he added.
Naming a finite number could be a clear indicator, as all candidates play the game of lowering expectations, Corrado said.
For example, insiders with the Obama campaign say he'll surpass $10 million, but Corrado anticipates the junior senator from Illinois will likely raise about twice that amount. He expects Edwards will bring in between $10 million and $15 million.
But Clinton, Corrado said, appears poised to raise at least $30 million -- more than 2000 Democratic nominee former Vice President Al Gore raised for his entire primary campaign and almost as much as Howard Dean raised for the entire year of 2003 in his high-dollar presidential campaign.
It could be more of a toss-up on the Republican side, Corrado said. Despite what the campaign says, Romney could be in second place, and any of the top-tier Republican candidates will have about $20 million.
Clinton raked in $2.7 million at a Washington fundraiser that involved her husband, Bill Clinton. The former president also helped the senator raise $1 million at a fundraising event in New York and recently raised $2.6 million at a Hollywood fundraiser.
That's twice the $1.3 million that Obama raised at his own Hollywood event, even though he seems to have a strong base and will hold fundraisers in Florida on March 30, after collecting money in Kentucky, California and Ohio events among others.
"I would only say we feel good about where we are at the end of the quarter," Obama spokeswoman Jen Psoki told Cybercast News Service. "Right now, we're getting to know as many voters as possible."
Edwards has been traveling the country raising money in hopes of surpassing the first-quarter total he raised during his previous presidential run -- $7.4 million. On the Internet alone, Edwards has reportedly raised $1 million.
In March, Romney has reportedly attended more than 20 fundraisers and in January raised $6.5 million in a single day. He has already begun purchasing political ads in early primary states. He scheduled fundraisers in Florida, Louisiana and South Carolina during the last week of the quarter.
McCain recently said he's "going to pay a price" for starting his campaign tour late and will fall far short of the campaign's (unpublicized) fundraising goal. He has said he was tied up with Senate business that took him away from fundraising.
McCain is on the "Straight Talk Express" bus tour and scheduled two Virginia fundraisers during the last week of the quarter.
Republican frontrunner Giuliani's team has also stressed that he entered the race later than McCain or Romney, and thus can't be expected to reach their level of fundraising, although the campaign says he will still be competitive.
"We expect to have all the resources we need to effectively communicate the mayor's message and communicate it effectively across the country," Giuliani spokeswoman Maria Comella told Cybercast News Service.
Much of the talk about what the first-quarter reports mean are "just worthless speculation," said Larry Sabato, director of the University of Virginia Center for Politics.
"The first quarter of a campaign is just like the first quarter of a football game. It doesn't always indicate the final score," Sabato said.
"Things can change dramatically. Money often follows the polls, and polls follow big events. There could be a big story or a scandal," he said. "Everyone in politics wants to pull down the curtain before the final act."
It's really the second quarter that will show a candidate's real sustainability, said Corrado.
"In the first quarter, they are largely out raising among their core supporters and donors, just picking low-lying fruit," Corrado said. "The second quarter is really important. It will show who is picking up financial momentum."
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