As GOP field fills up, race for donors on

By Michael Kranish, Globe Staff, March 3, 1999

WASHINGTON -- Patrick J. Buchanan and Texas Governor George W. Bush yesterday moved into a Republican presidential field that already is one of the most crowded in memory, and that probably cannot be sustained by the limited number of GOP contributors, according to political observers.

With Buchanan declaring his candidacy and Bush forming an exploratory committee, the pressure mounted for Elizabeth Dole to declare whether she is running. Some of her supporters have expressed concern that her delay is costing her crucial time for fund-raising.

A Dole aide, speaking on condition of anonymity, addressed those concerns last night by saying that an exploratory campaign committee could be formed as early as this week.

The "money primary," as the current campaign phase is known, has taken off at a furious pace because at least 10 nationally known GOP prospects are chasing a donor base that might be able to support three full-fledged campaigns. That does not include the partly self-financed bid of publisher Steve Forbes.

The moves by Bush and Buchanan highlight opposite ends of the Republican Party's financial spectrum. Bush is probably the best-positioned candidate, with much of the political and financial hierarchy of the party behind him. Buchanan, who in 1992 derided President George Bush as "King George," is counting on grass-roots support outside the normal party channels for his third presidential bid.

"It is about money now," said Ron Kaufman, political director for President Bush. "Anybody who can raise $15 million to $20 million between now and the first of the year is in. If they can't cross that threshold, they can't be in the finals."

Some Dole supporters, meanwhile, are concerned that she did not quickly create a campaign organization after her well-received appearance in New Hampshire last month. In the past week, a number of political activists familiar with the Dole effort have questioned whether she will run, noting Bush's strength and the difficulty of competing with so many candidates for the necessary funds. That, in turn, has prompted her supporters to urge her to act quickly.

While there is always a chase for presidential campaign money, this year's effort has grown bigger than ever. Bill Clinton had collected only $3.3 million by Jan. 1, 1992. This time around, a number of candidates hope to raise between $15 million and $35 million by Jan. 1, 2000.

So much has to be raised so quickly because the primary schedule has been dramatically compressed, and some analysts think the nomination race will be over a few weeks after the New Hampshire vote. Thus, unlike in some years, when a New Hampshire victory by a lesser-known candidate could become a financial springboard, the schedule is so tight that most of the funds have to be raised this year.

As a result, candidates are in a Catch-22 situation: They can't raise money unless they are shown to be credible, and many can't prove they are credible unless they raise a lot of money. That is partly why Senator John F. Kerry bowed out of a Democratic presidential bid, even though he would have faced only two announced opponents. The Republican field is far more crowded and presents a far more difficult campaign.

Even though Bush has lined up many endorsements and is leading in the national polls, he noted the crucial role of money in his announcement yesterday. "Raising money is the most important aspect of an exploratory committee," he said.

Dole, meanwhile, was counting on tapping many supporters who had backed her husband, Bob Dole, but political sources said she was disconcerted that some are either unwilling to commit themselves or are backing Bush.

Toni Pappas, chairman of a New Hampshire movement to draft Dole, said it is essential for Dole to declare her candidacy soon. "A lot of the workers that would be working on her campaign have been snapped up by other candidates," Pappas said.

New Hampshire Republican Party chairman Stephen Duprey said he has seen "no sign" that Dole is creating a campaign organization. David Carney, who was a senior adviser to Bob Dole's 1996 campaign, said, "There have been no phone calls, no one signed up to run her show."

Dole spokeswoman Joyce Campbell disputed such comments and said Dole is "greatly encouraged" by the public reaction to her possible candidacy. "She is on track with her possible exploratory committee plans."

Alec Koromilas, who helped organize the Elizabeth Dole speech to the Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce, said he had no indication Dole was thinking of staying out of the race. But, he added, "time is clearly of the essence. To raise $20 million to $30 million is a Herculean effort."

Political analysts said they don't see how so many Republicans can collect enough money to run.

Candidates such as Senator John McCain of Arizona, Representative John Kasich of Ohio, former Reagan aide Gary Bauer, and Senator Robert Smith of New Hampshire are running against proven fund-raisers like former education secretary Lamar Alexander and former Vice President Dan Quayle.

McCain, who plans to spend much of this month at fund-raisers, plans to transfer $2 million in leftover money from his Senate campaign to his presidential exploratory committee. But even Alexander and Quayle, with their experience on the national stage, may have a tough time. Alexander, for example, has collected only $1 million so far this year, although aides said he will hold a big fund-raiser soon.

Forbes, meanwhile, has no such worries because he has declared he will use a combination of contributions and his own money if he runs for president. As a result, Forbes would not have to adhere to federal spending limits and would not be eligible for taxpayer-supplied matching funds. That has prompted Bush to consider busting the spending cap as well.

Several undeclared candidates are using a variety of means to get around elections laws and run quasi-campaigns. Forbes, for example, has collected $13 million for his nonprofit company, Americans for Hope, Growth and Opportunity, which pays such expenses as radio and television ads that promote Forbes's views.

Alexander, Quayle, and Bauer have all taken advantage of state laws that allow them to collect unlimited contributions for various political action committees. For example, while presidential candidates cannot accept more than $1,000 per person each campaign cycle, non-candidates can collect unlimited amounts of money if they set up a political action committee in a state such as Virginia.

While the collection of early money is crucial, it is not always decisive. Senator Phil Gramm, the Texas Republican, in 1996 put a premium on raising money early and collected $32 million. But his candidacy bombed in the Iowa caucus, and he pulled out of the race before the New Hampshire primary.