Candidates Get Creative on Campaign Trail

Rep. Bill Thomas, who runs the House committee that controls taxes and spending, promises potential campaign donors he'll personally serve food at a barbecue. Another lawmaker dangles a screening of a Spike Lee film and advertises Chevy Chase as the master of ceremonies. Rep. Dick Gephardt throws open a private reception with top Democratic lawmakers to anyone who gives $5,000.

It's the end of a long fund-raising season, but candidates still haven't run out of gimmicks to raise cash before Tuesday's election.

Rep. Charles Rangel, a New York Democrat, sent out a recent invitation urging supporters to "Stand by me!'' and attend his fund-raiser. The bait: a screening of Lee's "We Wuz Robbed'' and performances by Ben E. King and Cissy Houston, with comedian Chase as MC.

Those who contributed $1,000 or more to Rangel's political action committee, the National Leadership PAC, could attend a special cocktail reception at the fund-raiser last week. The event took in $275,000, a Rangel spokesman said.

"Bill Thomas is making dinner. Bring the whole family!'' urges an invitation from Thomas, R-Calif., chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee. It features a sketch of an apron-clad Thomas, with "District Event'' and "Need Sponsors'' handwritten and underlined in the margin.

Those attending Thomas' annual pre-election barbecue — a fund-raiser and get-out-the-vote rally combined — on Sunday in Bakersfield also will be able to catch The Drifters "Singing their Golden Hits,'' the invitation says, listing "Under the Boardwalk'' and "This Magic Moment,'' among other well-known tunes.

Thomas won't actually be cooking, but he will hand out plates or serve food, spokesman Kevin McCarthy said. Bill Simon, the GOP candidate for governor, is also expected to spend time serving the crowd, McCarthy said.

Tickets are $8 per person or $20 per family, with sponsorships offered for $1,000 and up. Thomas raises money from sponsors to try to at least break even on the event, McCarthy said.

"The entire Republican statewide ticket is making this their last stop on that day,'' he said. "This is kind of known as the place to come because we have games for kids, clowns, bouncers, pony rides.''

The Drifters aren't the only performers featured on the fund-raising circuit this election.

Barbra Streisand headlined a Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee event last month in Los Angeles that took in $6 million. Earlier this month, Virginia Rep. Tom Davis, chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee, invited donors who contributed $5,000 or more to join him at a Rolling Stones concert at FedEx Field, home of the Washington Redskins.

Gephardt, D-Mo., offered a more upscale evening to donors Wednesday.

For $1,000 or more, they could attend Gephardt's "2002 Take Back the House Grande Finale'' at the Washington penthouse of Democratic donors Herb and Patrice Miller. Gephardt promised a private reception with House leaders and senators to those who raised or donated at least $5,000. The event raised $200,000 for his campaign.

Republican leaders also employed a team effort at a recent Washington fund-raiser.

House Speaker Dennis Hastert, House Majority Leader Dick Armey, House Majority Whip Tom DeLay, Colorado Sens. Wayne Allard and Ben Nighthorse Campbell, and "special guest'' Interior Secretary Gale Norton invited donors to a reception and dinner for Colorado House candidate Marilyn Musgrave last week.

For $1,000, donors could attend the reception; for $2,000 they also could take part in the dinner at the La Colline French restaurant on Capitol Hill.

Some candidates are relying on numbers rather than famous names to help make the case to potential donors: Senate hopeful Jim Talent in Missouri and Dick Monteith in California each tucked poll numbers into recent fund-raising letters.

Monteith cited an Oct. 1-2 poll that showed him leading Democrat Dennis Cardoza by six points among 300 likely voters in the race to fill the seat Democratic Rep. Gary Condit is leaving.

"Cardoza has yet to produce a poll that contradicts these results,'' Monteith's Oct. 21 letter says. "The time to get on board Dick Monteith's winning campaign is now.''