In money race, Robinson faces tall order

By Bob Hohler, Globe Staff, 4/21/2000

ASHINGTON - With less than seven months until Election Day, Senator Edward M. Kennedy and his sole Republican rival, Jack E. Robinson III, this week filed campaign finance reports that starkly underscore the size of Robinson's challenge.

The bottom line: Kennedy reported a bankroll of $3.7 million in campaign cash, Robinson $631.

The only other Republicans who have declared their candidacies against Massachusetts incumbents in Congress face similar trouble, according to first-quarter reports filed with the Federal Election Commission.

''It's brutal,'' said Thomas N. Tavener, a Rockland Republican who has raised less than $5,000 for his race against Representative William D. Delahunt, a Quincy Democrat with a war chest of $851,000.

The GOP candidate who is considered the party's best hope for waging a formidable race for a House seat, Peter Abair of Holyoke, ended the first quarter with $10,115 in cash.

Abair did not launch his campaign until March 21, 10 days before the reporting period ended. Still, the district's incumbent, Representative John W. Olver, an Amherst Democrat, ended the quarter with a campaign account of $403,145.

The power of incumbency, particularly the enhanced access to fund-raising sources, has been a major deterrent to Republicans who have weighed challenging Kennedy and the state's 10 Democratic members of the House. The filing deadline is May 9, yet few, if any other, GOP candidates appear poised to enter the fray.

Robinson, a wealthy telecommunications entrepreneur, has yet to begin actively fund-raising and has vowed to spend up to $1 million of his own money on trying to end Kennedy's 38 years in the Senate. Robinson already has loaned his campaign nearly $40,000.

But Kennedy, who spent $11 million to turn back Mitt Romney's $7-million challenge in 1994, has shown no sign of slackening against Robinson. Mobilizing his national fund-raising network, Kennedy raised $732,752 in the first three months of the year, including more than $600,000 from individual donors and $83,200 from political action committees.

Kennedy's reach extended from Boston to Puerto Rico to Beverly Hills. In fact, his longtime ties to Puerto Rico yielded $46,500 from individuals there.

He also received help from his family, including his niece, Caroline Kennedy Schlossberg, her husband, Edwin Schlossberg, and their children, John, Rose and Tatiana. Together, the Schlossbergs donated $5,000 over the three-month period.

Kennedy also accepted donations from such diverse sources as the actor Chevy Chase ($1,000), the Grand Traverse Band of Otlawa Indians of Michigan ($2,000) and several Senate colleagues.

Kennedy also faces a challenge from a Libertarian, Carla Howell of Wayland, who reported raising $100,401 and ending the quarter with $30,867.

A Senate candidate from the Constitution Party, Philip J. Lawler, raised $9,565 and ended the period with $9,714 on hand, according to his FEC report.

In the House races, Tavener, a mental health counselor who has never sought elective office, expressed optimism in his race against Delahunt, though he described the state's Republicans as ''an endangered species.''

Abair, a former aide to Governor Paul Cellucci, Lieutenant Governor Jane Swift and the late US Representative Silvio Conte, said he has measured the dimensions of his challenge.

''I know how much I need to raise to mount the kind of campaign I need to win this seat,'' he said. ''And I'm pretty confident we're going to get there.''

Most of the state's House members who have not yet attracted Republican challengers reported sizable campaign funds, most notably Representatives Martin T. Meehan of Lowell ($1.5 million), Edward J. Markey of Malden ($1 million), and J. Joseph Moakley of South Boston ($500,000).

Other incumbents who were once considered potentially vulnerable reported substantial cash on hand. They were Representatives John F. Tierney of Salem ($298,287), James P. McGovern of Worcester ($277,735) and Michael E. Capuano of Somerville ($235,524).