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Forget Votes, Now They're Running For Cash

Republican John McCain and Democrat John Edwards are in danger of losing their place among the leading presidential contenders if their spring fundraising falls too short of earlier totals.

Next weekend marks the end of the latest fundraising period, covering April through June, and the new finance reports will set a benchmark by which to measure the campaigns. Candidates in the crowded field raised a combined $133.5 million over the first three months of the year.

The latest numbers could further cement Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., and Barack Obama, D-Ill., as the masters of political money. In the January-March period, those two White House hopefuls combined to raise more than $50 million; each is believed on track to match or exceed their first-quarter total.

For Republicans, Mitt Romney and Rudy Giuliani are at the top of the money race. But the picture is blurred by the potential entry Fred Thompson, the actor and former senator from Tennessee.

A look at the fundraising picture ahead of the latest reporting period, which ends June 30:

McCain's stance in support of President Bush's immigration policies has hurt his fundraising. But the Arizona senator has packed his schedule with an average of more than one fundraiser a day this month in hopes of approaching the $13.6 million he raised in the first quarter.

Edwards' campaign says he will fall $5 million short of his $14 million first-quarter total. On Friday, the former North Carolina senator and 2004 vice presidential nominee sent an appeal to donors that sets a $9 million goal for April through June. While that message probably is an attempt lower expectations, no one disputes that Edwards will fail to keep pace with the earlier total.

Clinton's campaign promises to match her $26 million haul from the first quarter. She is ending the current reporting period with fundraisers in Chicago, New York and Miami. On Sunday, she planned a large gathering of Indian-American supporters and then a more intimate event hosted by Charles Dolan, the founder and chairman of Cablevision Systems Corp., a New York area cable TV provider. The event of this upcoming week is on Tuesday in New York, hosted by billionaire Warren Buffet and a who's who of investment bankers, hedge fund managers and private equity investors. They include Morgan Stanley's chief executive, John Mack, a fundraiser for President Bush in 2004.

Obama, who raised $25.7 million from January through March, could surpass that total, though aides say they have no chance of beating Clinton. Obama amassed a stunning list of 104,000 donors in the first three months and since has expanded that base. Buffet has offered to raise money for Obama, too, and is expected to do an event for him soon, but not this month.

Romney, the former Massachusetts governor, led all Republicans with $20 million last quarter. He might fall short of that tally as the campaign tries to expand its list of 30,000 donors from the first quarter. On Sunday, Romney planned to rent Fenway Park for a barbecue for donors. Aides expected to take in at least $1 million from an event Monday at the TD Banknorth Garden, where the Boston Bruins and Celtics play. A similar fundraiser in January amassed more than $6 million.

Giuliani, who raised $16.1 million last quarter, is expected to be in the same range this time. The former New York City mayor is ending the month with several fundraisers in California.

It would be difficult — but not impossible, some Democrats say — for either Clinton or Obama to match Bush's second-quarter mark of $35 million in 2003 as he marched unopposed to the Republican nomination.

Clinton "has locked down the institutional Democratic Party money," said Democratic strategist Anita Dunn, who is not aligned with a candidate in the 2008 race. "And Obama is proving there is actually a universe out there, beyond that, and a very potent one."

Edwards' aides say they are satisfied raising $9 million, with a goal of $40 million by the Iowa caucuses, the leadoff state, in January.

The $14 million that Edwards raised early this year doubled the amount he took in during the comparable period in 2003, when he made his first presidential bid. The $9 million target set by the campaign is twice the amount Edwards raised in the second quarter of 2003.

"This is not about outraising our opponents in a meaningless fundraising arms race or what any of the other campaigns are doing around us," said Edwards' spokesman, Eric Schultz. "This is about executing our plan, which is raising enough money to push our message in the critical early states, and building strong operations around the country."

But Edwards will have to show progress to keep his donors involved.

He had led in polls in Iowa, but those surveys have tightened. What's more, New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, who raised $6.2 million last quarter, could surpass that total and draw within striking distance of Edwards. That would vault Richardson's standing in the contest at Edwards' expense.

Among Republicans, the candidate with the most at stake is McCain. He began the year as the GOP front-runner, yet now trails in national and state polls.

He recast his money operation after his third-place finish in the January-March period. But just as he was stepping up his effort, the Senate began to debate changes in immigration law. In the Republican field, McCain is the only candidate who supports the legislation, which conservatives have panned.

Over the years, McCain has taken policy positions that, at times, have been in conflict with his own party. A spokesman, Brian Jones, acknowledged that the senator's stands "present some challenges in terms of fundraising."

"You have to work harder for the dollars," Jones said.

Republican pollster Tony Fabrizio, who is not involved in the presidential contest, said he believes McCain's campaign is "hanging by the fingertips." But he said that even if McCain stumbles, he has a chance to recover.

"John McCain has the political capital with the media that before they write him off they will give him the benefit of the doubt," he said.

Jones dismissed any suggestion of impending gloom: "We will have the resources necessary to communicate John McCain's message. There is nothing in this campaign that we have not been able to do for lack of funds."

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