Jewish World Review June 3, 2003 / 3 Sivan, 5763
Running for pre$ident: A Dem's lament
He has nothing against the candidate -- he likes him quite a bit, in fact -- he just cannot face what presidential fund raising has become.
"I dreaded being out on the road for 15 months hustling people for $1,000 and $2,000 checks," he said. "It's just too grueling."
Big-time fund raising is a very personal business and takes a lot of human contact. Every time you read about a dinner raising big bucks for a candidate, don't imagine that those dinner tickets sold themselves.
Somebody, usually a fund-raiser and/or the candidate himself, got on the phone and made call after call to sell those tickets. (And made thank-you call after thank-you call after the event. Such "donor-maintenance" is critical if you intend to have a future in politics.)
When Dick Gephardt told me a few months ago that he spends seven to eight hours a day, seven days a week making fund-raising calls, I was so shocked I had to ask him to repeat it just to make sure I had heard him right.
And keep in mind that in between those fund-raising calls, Gephardt has to campaign for president, fly around the country, give speeches, eat, sleep and, oh yeah, every now and then drop by Congress and do his day job representing the people from the 3rd District of Missouri.
As a sign of how seriously fund raising is taken by those in the political world, however, while some may cluck their tongues over how many votes Gephardt has missed this year (about 85 percent, according to recent reports), the analysts I know take this as a good sign.
"It is a sign he really intends to run for president and really intends to win and everything is secondary to that," a neutral analyst told me. "Screw the House; most of the votes there aren't close anyway. Everybody remembers Mike Dukakis. If you're going to run for president, then run for president."
(In the summer of 1988, Dukakis squandered a huge lead over George H.W. Bush in the polls by going back to Massachusetts and executing his duties as governor rather than staying on the road and campaigning.)
Yet Gephardt came in only third in fund raising in the first quarter of this year, and it wasn't even a close third. He raised $3.5 million to Sen. John Kerry's $7 million and Sen. John Edwards' $7.4 million.
Because the "money primary," as it is called, is so closely watched by political reporters (as well as the fact that money does actually pay the bills), the candidates are hustling money like crazy this month because the second quarter ends June 30 and the press is certain to make a very big deal of the results.
Yet there are problems with putting too much emphasis on the money that candidates raise. As William Saletan has pointed out in Slate, though Edwards raised the most money, it does not mean he has the most supporters. While Edwards claimed nearly 10,000 donors, Howard Dean claimed 12,000 and Kerry 15,000.
And as many have pointed out, raising large sums of money does not necessarily mean you are actually connecting with voters or ever will get a chance to. John Connolly raised $12 million in the 1980 race and ended up with one delegate, and Phil Gramm spent $20 million in the 1996 race and didn't even make it to New Hampshire.
Still, while the candidates know that money alone will not do it, they also believe that you cannot do it without money.
It was on his announcement tour in February that I asked Gephardt whether it was the humiliation of losing contest after contest or running out of money that ended a presidential primary campaign.
"Campaigns don't end -- they run out of money," he said. "You've got to put gas in the car every day; you've got to pay the staff; you've got to get planes in the air; you've got to drive cars."
Humiliation doesn't bother candidates? I asked.
"No," Gephardt said, "money bothers candidates."
And the more they have, the less bothered they are.
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