Bush and Dean are changing cash race

BARRE, Vt. — The decision of President Bush and former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean to forgo public financing will reshape future presidential contests, encouraging ideological candidates and weakening prospects of moderates, according to strategists and observers.

There is a consensus that a growing number of candidates will reject public financing of primaries and the accompanying spending limits without major changes in the law, an unlikely prospect if the Republican Party maintains control of Congress.

Without a revised law, candidates will seek to raise very large amounts of money — Bush and Dean are each aiming for $170 million to $200 million.

Fund-raising is widely viewed as "the first primary," in which candidates gain or lose credibility well before any votes are taken. With Bush and Dean establishing a clear precedent for a system without spending limits, fund-raising will become all the more important in future nomination contests.

Candidates facing the toughest struggles are Republican moderates without an inside track to business support, and Democratic centrists without strong appeal to such groups as Hollywood liberals or trial lawyers.

"These are the guys without strong followings on the Democratic left or Republican right, and that’s what you need," said a Republican consultant, who requested anonymity.

Dean is demonstrating his access to a large donor base by tapping into well-educated, computer-literate enthusiasts. Dean is capitalizing on the ease of contributing via the Internet by asking donors to "borrow" $100 to give him.

"It’s not automatic that it (the shift away from public financing) pushes the party to the left," said Al From, head of the centrist Democratic Leadership Council. "But there are going to be times that it is, and this is one of them," he said, referring to Dean’s success.

James Jordan, manager of the presidential campaign of Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., said Democratic small donors, who could donate as little as $5 or up to $200, are "disproportionately liberal," which empowers candidates who appeal to those "from the left side of the spectrum."

The Bush campaign this year and in 2000 has unified much of the pro-Republican corporate community through a network of fund-raisers known as "pioneers" (raising $100,000 or more) and "rangers" ($200,000 or more).

In 2000, Bush set a fund-raising record of $101 million. So far, he has raised just over $83 million and appears well on his way to his goal of $170 million to $200 million.

Eighty-four percent of Bush’s contributions have been $1,000 or more, and 11 percent have been under $200; 22 percent of Dean’s contributions have been $1,000 or more and 55 percent have been under $200, according to the Campaign Finance Institute.

Campaign finance experts suggest a Democrat with strong "star" power would be able to tap into two major sources of Democratic high-dollar contributors, trial lawyers and wealthy liberals.

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