Alexander's money woes lead to campaign staff cuts

GOP candidate to focus his limited resources on Iowa and New Hampshire

June 04, 1999|By Paul West | Paul West,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON -- Buffeted by what one adviser called "Bush mania," Republican presidential candidate Lamar Alexander is laying off campaign workers and scaling back his national campaign effort in response to money problems, campaign aides said yesterday.

Alexander plans to concentrate his limited resources on the early states of Iowa and New Hampshire, aides said, rather than run a full-fledged national campaign. The layoff of four senior aides, out of a full-time payroll of 38, amounts to about a 10 percent staff reduction. Alexander had hoped to raise $15 million this year. But he collected less than $750,000 through March and is likely to report only about $3 million in contributions as of June 30.

Eleven Republicans are competing for the nomination, and many are having difficulty raising money, at least in part because Texas Gov. George W. Bush's front-running campaign has been attracting record levels of contributions. In March, for example, senior aides to former Vice President Dan Quayle passed up their paychecks in order to help improve his campaign's financial picture before the end of the first-quarter reporting period.

But Alexander's cutbacks are the most drastic to come to light and could make it more difficult for him to persuade prospective donors that he has a realistic chance of winning the nomination.

The former Tennessee governor, who has been running almost nonstop since his unsuccessful 1996 presidential try, has openly acknowledged his fund-raising difficulties in recent weeks. He is competing for the same moderate base of support -- and donations -- as Bush, Elizabeth Dole and Arizona Sen. John McCain.

Early enthusiasm for the Bush candidacy "has tended to suck up a lot of oxygen and media attention and dollars from the rest of us," said Tom Rath, a senior Alexander adviser.

"What is fueling the Bush mania, in large part, is the strength of his poll numbers" over Vice President Al Gore, Rath said.

Far from measuring firm support for Bush, the poll results reflect a "generic anti-Gore vote," which Bush is attracting because he has the most recognizable name in the Republican field, the longtime GOP strategist said.

Alexander will now redouble his efforts in Iowa, where he is well-organized, in hopes of producing a strong showing at a nonbinding straw vote in August.

Former Gov. Terry E. Branstad, the leading Alexander backer in the state, said his goal is a first- or second-place finish for Alexander in the straw poll, which state party officials are promoting as a reliable predictor of success in February's Iowa caucuses.

"Ideally, you'd like to pull off an upset," said Branstad, insisting that Alexander's campaign is "going fine" in the state.

Alexander was too busy making fund-raising calls to talk with a reporter, an aide said yesterday.

Those being laid off include a campaign lawyer and three members of the communications staff, said press secretary Steve Schmidt, who is among those being cut. Schmidt will become a consultant to the campaign, for "significantly less" money than he now makes.

"This campaign is dealing with reality and making the changes it needs to make," Schmidt said.

Alexander is taking "smart business" steps now to preserve enough money to compete in the early caucuses and primaries next winter, Schmidt added.

Pub Date: 6/04/99

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