WASHINGTON – Move over Bubba — you're no longer the biggest fund-raising draw in town.
At the rate they're going, President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney should in short order surpass $90 million in fund-raising for the party's congressional elections, nine times as much as ex-President Bill Clinton has drawn.
The ratio is an indication that despite their best efforts, Democratic fund-raisers may be overshadowed by the star power of the Bush administration in an election year in which both parties are close to dominating Congress.
"If the Republicans beat history and hold the House and retake the Senate, money will be the main reason why," said Larry Sabato, a University of Virginia political scientist.
So far, Bush has raised at least $59.6 million and Cheney at least $8.2 million for Republicans from fewer than 30 events each this year. They are expected to raise at least $20 million for congressional races at a GOP dinner later this month in the nation's capital.
While the Republicans are supplementing fund-raising efforts by using Cabinet secretaries and White House aides, as well as sending the likes of political adviser Karl Rove and even first lady Laura Bush out on the campaign trail, Democrats are dispatching their own heavy hitters and establishing third-party organizations to raise still-legal soft money.
But more than a year after he left the White House, Clinton remains the Democrats' star attraction. He headed the Democratic National Committee gala fund-raising event in April, which netted $2.5 million for get-out-the-vote efforts.
Clinton joins other Dem heavyweights like possible 2004 presidential candidate and former Vice President Al Gore, Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle of South Dakota, House Minority Leader Dick Gephardt of Missouri, Connecticut Sen. Joseph Lieberman, Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry, and North Carolina Sen. John Edwards.
The Democrats have also helped to set up several fund-raising machines, which will help to raise unregulated soft money funds for this election, and will also be able to continue raising soft money once raising such money by candidates and their respective parties is banned under the new campaign finance reform laws set to take effect Nov. 6.
Clinton, however, remains the big hope for big dollars this fall. He has received so many requests from candidates and the Democratic Party that he asked them to send a priority list.
So far, he has attended about a dozen Democratic fundraisers this year, including a January event that raised about $1.5 million for California Gov. Gray Davis; a $1 million New York fundraiser for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee in March; and a $3 million event for New Jersey Sen. Robert Torricelli last week.
He will also raise money this month for Iowa Sen. Tom Harkin, Louisiana Sen. Mary Landrieu and New York Democrats.
"The former president will do what he can — given his busy schedule with his foundation's work, writing his book and giving speeches — to help Democrats get elected this fall," spokeswoman Julia Payne said.
Political analyst Jay Nordlinger said Clinton's campaigning could backfire for Democrats, possibly even motivating a constituency sometimes called "broken-glass Republicans" who detest the former president so much they would crawl across broken glass to vote against people he supports.
The current president, meanwhile, seems to campaign for Republicans without getting much fanfare or getting Democrats too fired up, Nordlinger said.
GOP insider Haley Barbour said this is the first time in a long while that Republicans have had a star fund-raiser, at least since Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush left office.
In 1993, the GOP took in a record amount by rebuilding the party's small-donor base, Barbour said, and began having significant success with a large-donor program in 1994.
But since the president and vice president are enjoying such high popularity and job approval numbers, they have had relative success convincing donors to keep their party in the House majority, and to help win the Senate over, too, Barbour added.
In the first quarter of this year, Democratic and Republican Senate candidates were roughly even, while GOP House candidates had a substantial edge over Democrats, as did national Republican committees. But Democrats traditionally have the advantage of unions, pro-choice and environmental activists on their side for massive get-out-the-vote and advertising campaigns.
DNC spokeswoman Maria Cardona said Democrats do not expect to raise more than Republicans and do not need to.
Sabato, however, said money does matter. "The Democratic Party of 2002 does not want to be known as the Clinton party. It wants to move ahead," Sabato said. "But they still need this man of the past."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.