Democrat John Kerry (search) is setting an ambitious $105 million goal for his effort to unseat President Bush and will soon start a 20-city fund-raising blitz aimed at scooping up at least $15 million by May.
If Kerry reaches his target, it would be a fund-raising high for the Democrats and roughly match the record $106 million that Bush raised for his primary campaign in 2000. Bush has already surpassed that total this year, collecting more than $155 million for his re-election bid, with millions more to come.
"This is the first time a Democrat has had the chance to raise money after he's been the nominee or the perceived nominee," Louis Susman, Kerry's national finance chairman, said Thursday.
"It's a big hill to climb, but we think we can climb it," he added.
Kerry raised about $25 million last year and hopes to take in $80 million more this year before the party's convention in late July.
He can raise money through the spring and summer, before the party's nominating convention, because he opted out of the public financing system and its $45 million spending cap for the primary season. Democratic nominees-to-be took the government funding in the past and emerged from the primary contests close to the limit.
Kerry's fund-raising blitz starts March 29 with a two-day swing through California, including stops in San Francisco, San Diego, Los Angeles and Sacramento, national finance director Peter Maroney said. The campaign hopes to pick up $2.5 million on the trip.
The effort continues next month with events in Washington, D.C.; Chicago; Providence, R.I.; Boston, New York City; New Jersey; Pittsburgh; Philadelphia; Atlanta; Miami; New Orleans and Houston. Stops in St. Louis, Detroit, Cleveland and Cincinnati are in the planning stages.
Most fund-raisers will be $1,000 to $2,000 per ticket, with those in the biggest cities expected to take in $1 million or more. Kerry will enlist help for events in smaller cities from surrogates such as his wife, Teresa Heinz Kerry, and former presidential hopefuls Dick Gephardt and Wesley Clark.
Kerry hopes to raise at least $15 million to $20 million through mail and telemarketing solicitations and millions on the Internet, for a total of at least $40 million in small-dollar donations overall.
Democratic fund-raisers from Hollywood insiders to trial lawyers are also jumping in to help.
Actress and singer Barbra Streisand (search) donated $2,000 to Kerry and is in discussions about what else she can do, a spokeswoman said.
In Los Angeles, supermarket tycoon Ron Burkle is opening his home for a fund-raiser March 30 that is expected to draw big donors from the worlds of Hollywood, real estate, banking and labor.
DreamWorks SKG (search) film studio executive Jeffrey Katzenberg is a co-host of the event. His DreamWorks partners -- Steven Spielberg and David Geffen -- haven't committed to raising money for Kerry but expect to meet soon with the Massachusetts senator to discuss their involvement, DreamWorks spokesman Andy Spahn said.
Milwaukee attorney Robert Habush, former head of the Association of Trial Lawyers of America (search), supported former candidate and trial lawyer John Edwards but plans to raise money for Kerry. He expects other attorneys will, too.
"Considering our president hates us and has taken the trouble to put on his agenda a restriction of patients' and consumers' rights, I think it would be very easy to get trial lawyers engaged against President Bush," Habush said.
Kerry faces long odds in trying to narrow the money gap against Bush.
The president reported cash on hand of $104 million as of Feb. 1 -- with no debt -- and continues raising money, including $1.5 million he picked up at events in California on Wednesday and Thursday.
In its most recent report, the Kerry campaign said it had $2.1 million on hand as of Feb. 1. Fund raising has improved; he raised at least $3 million over the Internet since locking up the Democratic nomination Tuesday, aides said.
Kerry spent nearly every dollar he took in last year, relying on personal loans of $6.4 million to keep the campaign afloat before his primary victories in January. He hasn't ruled out spending more of his own money, spokesman Michael Meehan said.