WASHINGTON – Among the Democratic hopefuls, only Howard Dean (search) with his Internet-driven fund-raising base seems to have the resources to ride out several early losses. But all the candidates must pick and choose where they spend in the upcoming contests.
After more than a year of fund raising, candidates continue to compete for campaign cash even as they woo primary voters. Most need to start winning — or in Iowa caucus victor John Kerry's (search) case, keep winning — to attract enough money to run viable campaigns beyond the next few weeks, Democratic strategists say.
If the millions they've collectively spent in early-voting states such as Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina seems like a lot, looming on March 2 is Super Tuesday (search). Eleven states, including costly California and New York, will have primaries then.
"That is the day of reckoning when it comes to the money," Democratic media consultant Bill Carrick said. "It's so much money none of them can even imagine it."
Carrick, formerly with Dick Gephardt's campaign, knows all about reckonings. Gephardt lost Monday's Iowa caucuses and dropped out; he had enough money to go on but knew his prospects of continuing to raise it were slim, Carrick said.
The best candidate positioned to survive early losses is fund-raising leader Dean, whose legion of devoted online donors gives him the prospect of a continuing cash flow, said Tony Coelho, chairman of Democrat Al Gore's 2000 presidential campaign. But even that could slow quickly if he places third or lower in New Hampshire's first-in-the-nation primary Tuesday, Coelho said.
"He can afford to ride it out as long as he starts cutting costs," Coelho said. "He has extensive operations throughout a network of states, so the cost of his campaign is the most costly of all of them."
Dean raised roughly $40 million last year, nearly double anyone else's total in the Democratic race. Despite his third-place finish in Iowa behind Kerry and No. 2 John Edwards, by Thursday Dean had raised roughly $590,000 of the $1 million he is asking donors to help him collect before the New Hampshire voting.
Unlike many of Dean's past fund-raising drives, the campaign wasn't measuring the results of its $1 million New Hampshire challenge on a bat posted on Dean's Web site.
Kerry and Edwards have also seen hundreds of thousands of dollars come in this week.
Kerry's Web site has a bar measuring his progress toward $1 million he is trying to raise in the week before Tuesday's New Hampshire voting. The campaign had collected about $770,000 by Thursday. Edwards raised at least $500,000 online since Monday night.
In the past several presidential elections, the candidate who raised the most in the preceding year wound up becoming his party's nominee.
One of them, 1988 Democratic nominee Michael Dukakis, said candidates can afford to live hand-to-mouth right now, not spending much beyond New Hampshire and the Feb. 3 primaries.
"You're going to go through ups and downs," Dukakis said. "If you're doing better and better, the money will come."
Most of the campaigns are keeping fund-raising particulars to themselves, including how much cash they have on hand. They won't have to reveal details until they file finance reports Jan. 31, and those will cover only Oct. 1-Dec. 31.
Next behind Dean in fund raising are Kerry and Edwards, whose campaigns say they have at least enough to make it through the Feb. 3 primaries. Kerry, who lent his campaign about $6.8 million last year on top of more than $20 million in fund raising, will decide next month whether he needs to put in more personal cash.
Dean and Kerry are both skipping public financing, which means they can spend as much as they want but won't get monthly government checks matching the first $250 of each contribution.
Edwards, Wesley Clark and Joe Lieberman are accepting public funding, making them eligible for up to $18.6 million in government "matching funds." They are limited to about $45 million in primary spending, face state-by-state spending caps, and can't use their own money.
Edwards raised $20 million from January 2003 to the Iowa caucuses.
New Hampshire is the first contest for Clark and Lieberman. Clark raised nearly $15 million last year, started January with at least $10 million left and expects to raise more than $3.5 million this month. Lieberman raised $12 million to $15 million last year.