'04 Dems Wave Their Bankbooks

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In her latest Political Points commentary, CBS News Senior Political Editor Dotty Lynch takes a look at the politics of fundraising.

Political junkies take heart! If the death and destruction of the war in Iraq are getting you down, take a break from the real war and watch the gaming of the 2004 Democratic presidential wannabes as they release their January to March 2003 fundraising totals over the next few days.

Shock and awe is the strategy: Set expectations low, shock by timing the release when your opponent least expects it, and sit back and observe the awe produced by exceeding the expectations you successfully planted for yourself.

John Edwards is numero uno so far in the Shock and Awe sweepstakes. Edwards was first out of the box to announce his take, with a "better than expected" number of $7.4 million. Edwards, whose star has dimmed a bit inside the beltway in the past few months, beat the other Sen John (Kerry, that is) not only by getting his number out first but by topping Kerry by a few hundred thousand dollars.

Kerry is claiming that he may just have a bit more in the bank than Edwards but the biggest shock he created was not matching his top dog image with his fundraising prowess.

Today, the Kerry campaign manager Jim Jordan looks a bit like the Tommy Franks of the Democratic field. But, like Rummy and Tommy, he says he's thrilled with the progress he's made. "We've raised more money, acquired more donors, put more in the bank, and built a stronger political foundation than I thought would be possible 90 days ago," Jordan said. He compared Kerry's $8 million cash on hand to the $6.8 million cash-on-hand of Al Gore and the $2.8 million banked by Bill Bradley at this point in the 2000 campaign.

The number two winner in the S&A sweeps is former Vermont Governor Howard Dean. Dean has struck a chord with liberal Democrats with his outspoken opposition to President Bush's decision to go into Iraq without the backing of the UN.

But for a year he's been running around to $35 fundraisers while the big guys scooped up big chucks of soft money and wooed the heavy hitters. Dean sent out a letter to supporters saying he needed to raise as much as possible before the first fundraising quarter ended on March 31.

"By giving your financial support today, you will show the press, political insiders and party activists that I am a candidate with a message that works and the ability to run a strong campaign," The Dean machine floated it's hope of raising $1.5 million. On Wednesday, they released a figure of $2.6 million. Surprise and admiration, if not quite shock and awe.

The Lieberman folks just barely topped Howard Dean's putting out their total of $3 million late Wednesday with a rather defensive disclaimer about not hiring a fundraising director until late February and reminding reporters that their operation was slowed by late decisions by Al Gore and Chris Dodd.

Rep. Dick Gephardt is holding his numbers close to the vest. But he sent out a fundraising letter last week saying that it was crucial for him to be "at the top of that list" in order to be taken seriously. Word is that he won't make the very top but he's hoping to surprise those who have relegated him to yesterday.

The other candidates Graham, Kucinich, Braun and Hart have yet to fess up. Bob Graham will get a minor pass because of his health, although his campaign's bravado about a lock on Florida money may be challenged. The expectations for the others are so low that even exceeding them would produce little awe. Gary Hart, who was never much of a fundraiser, might look to the past and take some consolation. In the first quarter of 1983, he raised only $465,000 and had only $25,000 on hand on April 1.

President Bush has not yet formed a committee and all of these numbers from Democrats will pale once Karl Rove, Ken Mehlman, Jack Oliver and company get serious about putting a campaign together. While the Democratic candidates are budgeting for a maximum of $35 million for the contested primaries, the Bush folks are talking about a cakewalk of $200 million plus to run unopposed for the GOP nomination.

Cakewalks have a way of becoming a bit more challenging than originally planned, but the Bush team is probably pining for the day when they can turn their attention from Patriots to Pioneers.