Dem Presidential Hopefuls Compete for Cash

Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts has yet to finish counting his first-quarter take, but aides said Wednesday that preliminary figures show the campaign raised a bit more than $7 million between Jan. 1 and March 31, 2003.

The campaign says the $7 million, which could increase as additional checks are tallied, is added to $3 million that was transferred into the account last year. Minus expenses from the last quarter, Kerry's camp has more than $8 million in the bank, an unprecedented sum so early in the race.

“I’m deeply grateful for and genuinely moved by the depth of support that so many Democrats across the country have shown for me and my campaign for president," Kerry said in a statement.

Contributions came from approximately 15,000 individuals, and were received from all 50 states. With at least $5,000 coming from 20 states, the campaign now qualifies for federal matching funds. 

Among the other nine contenders seeking the chance to take on President Bush in 2004, the campaign for Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina actually raised more in the first quarter -- $7.4 million from Jan. 1 to March 31, his staff said Tuesday.

"In the first quarter, fund raising was a priority and we couldn't be more pleased with Sen. Edwards' strong showing," spokeswoman Jennifer Palmieri said. "At this point in the campaign, raising money isn't just about having resources. Money begets money, and it's proving the vitality of your campaign to other potential supporters and to the media, frankly, and to voters."

In fact, many political analysts believe that cash is king when it comes to the early race for president. Fund-raising prowess is often equated with viability, and conventional wisdom says candidates need $15 million to compete in the early primaries.

But Donnie Fowler, a national field director for Al Gore's 2000 presidential campaign, which had $6.8 million cash on hand in its first quarter, disagrees with that assumption, and said the second and third quarters are more telling.

Much of the first-quarter money is "low-hanging fruit. It's the easiest money because it's family and friends," Fowler said.

"They're going to give money to you regardless of whether you're viable, regardless of whether they agree with you on all the issues, regardless of what the media's saying," he said.

The $7.4 million raised by Edwards does not include any funds transferred from the Edwards for Senate Committee, which retains $1.4 million in its account.

The key to Edwards' success may have come from trial lawyers, a group of which Edwards is a part and from whom he received 80 percent of political action committee money in recent years.

The one-term North Carolina senator has been crisscrossing the country for months, seeking to develop a national network of volunteer fund-raisers and holding dozens of fund-raising events, including stops in Democratic donor hot spots like New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco.

Edwards hopes to continue on the fund-raising path through the second quarter, which ends in June, Palmieri said, and plans to visit voters in his home state next weekend before heading to early primary states Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina.

The campaign for Rep. Dick Gephardt of Missouri is downplaying expectations. The Gephardt camp said they will be competitive and on their budget but not anywhere close to Edwards and Kerry. Aides say the campaign will have raised between $4 million and $6 million in the first quarter.

Sen. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut is also lowering expectations. Aides predict Lieberman, who ran with Gore in 2000 and who has said this race is taking place in exceedingly different times, will be fourth in the early money chase, but won't put a number on it for now. Filings are not due into the Federal Elections Commission until April 15.

Former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean is expected to have raised about $2.5 million, low in comparison to the top tier but more than he set as a goal for himself. Dean was essentially an unknown a few months ago but has raised his profile sharply as the Democratic candidates' most vocal critic against the war in Iraq.

Information was not available for the remaining candidates: civil rights activist Al Sharpton, Ohio Rep. Dennis Kucinich, former Illinois Sen. Carol Moseley-Braun and Florida Sen. Bob Graham.

Fox News' Carl Cameron and The Associated Press contributed to this report.