Democratic presidential hopeful Howard Dean neared his goal of $1.5 million in contributions Friday as he and his rivals pressed to raise as much as possible in the first quarter of the 2004 campaign season.

Dean, who has relied heavily on the Internet to raise money, sent an e-mail urging prospective donors to give before Monday, when the first fund-raising period ends and he and the other candidates must report their totals to the Federal Election Commission.

"We're only $83,000 short of our target for the first quarter FEC deadline!" the former Vermont governor wrote in his Thursday night e-mail.

Dean's Web site has been drawing more than 200 donations a day, campaign spokeswoman Sue Allen said.

"We are feeling really good about what our final report will show on Monday," Allen said. "We had an internal goal of about $1.5 million, and we're comfortable that we're going to meet that goal."

Dean planned three fund-raisers Monday in Washington, D.C. Allen would not say how much he expected them to raise but described them as events at private residences for fewer than 100 people.

Although he was nearing his goal, Dean did not expect to be near the top in the first leg of what is currently a nine-way money race.

Missouri Rep. Dick Gephardt was raising about $1.5 million in one evening at a Friday event in St. Louis, spokesman Erik Smith said.

Gephardt, former House minority leader, also planned fund-raisers Monday in Washington.

Smith would not say how much Gephardt expected to raise for the quarter; the Friday event combined with $2.4 million Gephardt was tapping from his House campaign guaranteed his first presidential report would show at least $4 million in receipts, however.

Smith said that while the first-quarter campaign finance report was important as a sign of a campaign's early strength, the second and third quarters were more important still.

"At the end of this quarter, all the low-hanging fruit's gone," Smith said. "Campaigns need to actually start building up the depth of their support, some staying power."

North Carolina Sen. John Edwards planned several fund-raising stops through the weekend, including New York City on Friday, South Carolina on Saturday and Sunday and Louisiana on Sunday.

Democratic strategists said they expect Edwards to report $4 million to $5 million raised in the first quarter.

Campaign spokeswoman Jennifer Palmieri refused to give an estimate but said Edwards was pleased with his early efforts.

"We think we will do well and be competitive but don't necessarily expect this will be our best quarter," Palmieri said. "Being relatively new to the national fund-raising scene, a lot of our work this quarter has been prospecting as opposed to raising."