Presidential Candidates Compete For Dollars

WASHINGTON (AP) - Hillary Rodham Clinton raises nearly $3
million in a single event and husband Bill pleads for more. John
McCain publicly frets about falling financially behind.

With the first quarter of fundraising ending Saturday, the
presidential campaigns are working overtime to make sure they don't
get tagged as losers in the money race.

"Money in the off year has never been more important than in
this presidential cycle," said Michael Toner, a former Federal
Election Commission chairman.

In a message to supporters last week, Bill Clinton stressed the
importance of posting high fundraising totals in the first quarter.
"The (financial) report her campaign files will set the tone
for the rest of the year, and it is absolutely critical to her
success," he wrote, just days after he headlined a $2.7 million
Washington fundraiser for her.

Official campaign totals place her fundraising for just last
week at $6 million, but that number could underestimate sums raised
in New York and California. And by all accounts, the Democratic
front-runner will lead all candidates in first-quarter fundraising,
with some estimates placing her overall contributions at $40
million or more.

That is a formidable number - and only her campaign knows how
accurate it may be. Her main Democratic rivals simply want to stay
within reach.

"If the press reports that Hillary has raised a lot of money,
people are going to yawn and change the channel - big deal," said
Wade Byrd, a North Carolina lawyer and fundraiser for Sen. John
Edwards. "But if we can stay in the game, now that's news and
we're going to stay in the game."

Sen. Barack Obama is expected to come in behind Clinton, perhaps
at about $20 million, helped in part by a significant online donor
base. Obama also has attracted big name contributors, including
billionaire investor Warren Buffett. Edwards is likely to fall in
third place.

"I know how hard I am working to raise money and I know how
hard people are working to help me raise money," Clinton said in
an interview Monday with The Associated Press in Iowa. "... The
amount of time we have to spend really undermines the political
debate and dialogue. We should be out talking to people."

The big numbers will get a boost because several candidates also
have been raising money for the general election campaign, in case
they choose to bypass the public financing system. The Federal
Election Commission last month said presidential candidates could
raise money now for the general election campaign and could later
return it if they choose to accept money from the taxpayer-financed
presidential election fund.

That is bound to artificially increase the amount of money
raised this quarter. One Clinton fundraiser estimated that 25
percent of the contributions at one of her fundraisers was for the
general election.

Among Republicans, the picture is less predictable. McCain
hinted over the weekend that his fundraising totals would fall
short of his goals.

"We started late, our money raising, and we're going to pay a
price for it because we got off to a late start," McCain said
Saturday as he campaigned in New Hampshire. "I enjoy this kind of
politics more than I enjoy raising money."

While McCain entered the race as the favorite, he has fallen
behind former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani in national polls.
Weak fundraising would further hurt his image, even though he
remains the most popular Republican in New Hampshire, site of the
first presidential primary.

Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney got off to a fast start
with a big fundraising day early in his campaign that raised more
than $6 million. His fundraisers say Romney has kept up a strong
fundraising pace, tapping a donor base that includes former
business associates and the Mormon church.

"The positive piece of news is that it has been sustainable,"
said Tom Tellefsen, Romney national finance co-chairman. Still, he
said the campaign has also had to spend a significant amount of
time getting organized.

"I do feel comfortable that we will be very, very close," he
said. "If we're not No. 1 we'll be very much in the pack."
Giuliani is expected to be in the mix with Romney and McCain.

All three boast fundraisers culled from the Pioneers and Rangers
that formed the core of President Bush's fundraising operation.
Money isn't everything, of course. Sen. Phil Gramm, R-Texas,
raised the most money for his presidential campaign in 1995 but
dropped out before the New Hampshire primary. And former Vermont
Gov. Howard Dean made a fundraising splash in 2003, but came in
third in the Iowa caucuses.

What's more, second-tier candidates in both parties could also
surprise the field. Among Democrats, Sen. Chris Dodd of
Connecticut, who is the chairman of the Senate's Financial Services
Committee, has been raising money from the banking community.

New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson has done some fundraising, though
Democrats close to his campaign say he is hoping to do better in
the second quarter.

"The real bench mark: $30 million by the end of March 31, and
the second one is $15 million to $20 million," Toner said. "If a
candidate is under $10 million, it will be very difficult to
continue competing."