Gephardt Campaign Retools Fund-Raising Strategy

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Presidential candidate Dick Gephardt (search) fell short of his fund-raising goal by more than $1 million, raising questions about his ability to excite Democratic donors and remain a top-tier candidate.

The former House Minority leader, who hoped to raise $5 million from April to June, collected just $3.87 million -- apparently placing him in a distant fifth-place among the nine Democratic presidential candidates.

His aides pledged to retool their fund-raising strategy for the second half of the year.

"Four million (dollars) ain't chicken feed," campaign manager Steve Murphy said in a telephone interview. "We're on plan to raise $20 million this year and be able to spend the maximum in every early state through February, which is when a front-runner, if not the nominee, will be decided."

Gephardt, the Missouri congressman, holds a narrow lead in most polls in Iowa, site of the first voting of 2004. But former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean (search) and Sen. John Kerry (search) of Massachusetts have narrowed his advantage.

Kerry and Dean lead in polls of New Hampshire Democrats, who vote a week after Iowa. Though he trails the pair in New Hampshire, Gephardt has been considered among the top three candidate because of his strength in Iowa, long ties to organized labor, his experience from running for president in 1988 and a national political network he built while leading Democrats in the House.

The network's strength is called into question because of the fund-raising totals. Aides for Kerry and Dean say they are making inroads on Gephardt's labor base, though no firm evidence has surfaced yet.

Gephardt is not the only Democrat with money woes. Sen. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut shuffled his fund-raising team after raising $5.1 million this quarter, good enough for third or fourth place but still a disappointment for the 2000 vice presidential nominee who leads in many national polls.

Lieberman's problem may be his expenses; he has about $4 million in cash on hand, less than Gephardt, Dean, Kerry and Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina.

Campaign officials had told reporters Gephardt would report about $4.5 million on his fund-raising report which is released Tuesday. But some donors did not meet their commitments and some money arrived after the second quarter ended June 30, Murphy said.

He said the campaign had $6.3 million in the bank, less than Kerry and Edwards are expected to report later Tuesday and about the same as Dean.

Gephardt raised $3.5 million from January to March and transferred $2.4 million from his St. Louis-based congressional account -- a total of $9.8 million for the year.

"We thought we raised more and we should have raised more and we're going to raise more," Murphy said. "We've got a good financial organization. We're going to plug some holes and raise the $10 million we need to get through the rest of the year."

Murphy declined to spell out what holes would be plugged, saying he did not want to tip off the competition.

However, a senior campaign official. who spoke on condition of anonymity, said Gephardt plans to focus more on raising money from the Midwest, small donors and the Internet. The congressman's biggest Missouri fund-raisers are in the first and third quarters, the official said.

Fund-raising totals are considered an early measure of candidates' strength, but the importance can be overstated. Many Democrats believe there will be five or six candidates who raise enough money to compete in the early primaries, and Gephardt is on virtually every Democrats' list of top five candidates.