Dean out-collects Democrats again

Presidential candidate boosts lead, raises record $15 million in 3rd quarter

October 01, 2003|By Paul West | Paul West,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

LOS ANGELES - Howard Dean widened his fund-raising lead in the Democratic presidential contest by raking in a party record of nearly $15 million for the three-month period ending yesterday.

The former Vermont governor, who began the year as a long-shot outsider, is now in a position to close it out with more money than the other Democratic candidates. Over the past 30 years, the contender who has won the so-called "money primary" - by collecting the most cash in the year before the election - has nearly always gone on to become his party's presidential nominee.

"What our record fund raising means is there are a lot of people in this country who are willing to stand up and be proud to be Democrats again, if we give them a reason to be proud to be Democrats again," Dean said at a stop in south central Los Angeles. Later, at a fund-raiser at Union Station, he announced that the campaign had raised $14.8 million from 187,000 donors, in the third quarter.

Dean's take, fattened by millions in online donations in the past 10 days, may be as much as triple the amount his closest rival collected for the period. It also broke the quarterly record for a Democratic presidential candidate, set in 1995 when President Bill Clinton took in about $10 million for re-election.

But the all-time champion fund-raiser remains President Bush. He continued to rake in record amounts of campaign cash over the past three months, eclipsing Dean and the other Democrats combined. For the quarter, Bush is expected to report donations of as much as $50 million, on top of $35 million reported this summer.

Bush is bypassing the federal matching funds system, as he did in the 2000 campaign, which allows him to raise and spend unlimited amounts, in gifts of $2,000 or less. He is expected to collect as much as $200 million for his re-election - twice the record he set in his first run.

Dean has also said he may forgo matching funds, which would free him from the roughly $45 million spending limit. If so, he would become the first Democratic contender to opt out of the system of partial public financing put in place after the Watergate scandal of the 1970s.

Asked what factors might lead him to take that step, Dean said, "We haven't figured that out yet." He said he was "at least two months away from" making a decision on matching funds.

Dean's campaign said that more than 180,000 contributors donated an average of $80 each over the past three months. Some in the Dean camp believe he could neutralize Bush's fund-raising advantage if he passed up matching funds and if his Internet-powered small-donor base continued to grow on the pace of the past few months.

At the same time that he is establishing himself as the first true candidate of the Internet age, Dean is also raising an increasing amount at traditional fund-raising events. At one point last month, the money he had raised from non-Internet sources was roughly equal to his online total. Some of the traditional money is coming from donors who are scrambling to give to their party's front-runner.

When the campaigns file disclosure reports this month, Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts is expected to fall to second place, behind Dean, in total contributions. Kerry, who once hoped to raise more than anyone else, collected about $4.5 million for the quarter, said an aide, bringing his total for the year to a little more than $20 million, compared with $25 million for Dean.

To soften the impact of Dean's latest fund-raising success, the Kerry campaign rolled out the endorsement of former Sen. Gary Hart, who had flirted with a presidential run this year.

Dean has now out-raised the other Democrats in two consecutive quarters. He began the year by collecting $2.6 million over the first three months, then more than doubled that in the second quarter, with $7.4 million, and doubled that total in the quarter that just ended.

Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina surprised many when he raised $7.4 million in the first quarter. But he has slipped and is expected to raise less than $3 million in the third quarter.

Rep. Richard A. Gephardt of Missouri is likely to have raised about $5 million, Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman of Connecticut about $4 million. Several candidates, including Rep. Dennis Kucinich of Ohio, former Sen. Carol Moseley Braun of Illinois and the Rev. Al Sharpton, are running low-budget efforts. Sen. Bob Graham of Florida is likely to report about $2 million.

With most of the presidential delegates being selected in the first 10 weeks of 2004, the importance of money could be magnified in the primary contest. Experts have said that a candidate would need to have banked at least $20 million by the end of this year to have a credible chance in the early voting.

Among the unknowns is whether retired Gen. Wesley K. Clark can show a fund-raising ability to match his impressive showing in recent polls. He is expected to report donations of about $2 million for the first three weeks of his campaign.

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