Gephardt Campaigns With War in Mind

Notwithstanding war, an important Campaign 2004 political deadline loomed, so Democratic presidential hopeful Dick Gephardt coupled an appeal for cash with prayers for the U.S. military.

Gephardt's appeal said it was important to raise as much money as possible before the first fund-raising reports come out next month. "I need to be at the top of that list," the Missouri congressman wrote, imploring donors to give $50 or more.

Gephardt is one of nine Democratic contenders pressing to raise as much as possible before Monday, the end of the first quarter of fund raising for the 2004 election. The candidates will file their first reports with the Federal Election Commission, and the totals they post will offer an early sign of their strength.

Gephardt opened the e-mail telling supporters he was praying for a successful and safe return of U.S. soldiers fighting overseas. Last fall, the former House minority leader co-wrote a congressional resolution authorizing President Bush to use force in Iraq, but since then he has said he would have done more than the president to build an international coalition.

"While all of us are concerned about the war, the American public also is worrying about what happens next on the domestic front," the lawmaker wrote in the e-mail sent Monday. "I have offered very specific proposals to provide health care for all, strengthen our schools, protect pensions, achieve energy independence and ensure tax fairness."

Gephardt spokesman Erik Smith said raising money is important for any campaign now, and it would have been awkward to send a fund-raising letter without acknowledging the war against Iraq. Gephardt also has gone ahead with other fund-raising activities, including events Tuesday in Dallas and Houston.

"Campaigns face a choice: Do you ignore the reality of what's going on overseas or do you make some reference to it?" Smith said. "It was important in every communication to be sensitive to what Americans are dealing with right now."

Another Democratic contender, former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean, made no explicit reference to the war in a fund-raising e-mail he sent Sunday.

Like Gephardt, however, Dean did tell potential givers that it was important for him to raise as much as possible before the first fund-raising quarter ends March 31.

"By giving your financial support today, you will show the press, political insiders and party activists that I am a candidate with a message that works and the ability to run a strong campaign," Dean, who opposes the war, wrote. "I hope I have proven over the past months that I am committed to the issues that matter most to you and to doing the right thing - even when it means standing alone."

The presidential hopefuls aren't the only ones pressing ahead with fund raising during the war.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee hoped to take in $2 million at a $2,500-per-ticket dinner Tuesday night in Washington. In a reflection of the somber times, the committee was opening with a moment of silence for the troops and having a band play "God Bless America."

The National Republican Senatorial Committee, meanwhile, held a Washington dinner Tuesday offering two of its donor groups a chance to mix with senators and hear a performance by soul legend James Brown. Individuals who contributed $2,000 to $5,000 per year were invited.