Texas Gov. George W. Bush and Vice President Al Gore have jumped out to big fund-raising leads in their respective party's presidential battles, both hauling in dollars far faster than Bush's father did in 1987 in the last open race for the White House.
Gore has raised at least $7 million so far this year for his bid for the Democratic nomination, aides close to his campaign said. Gore tapped more than 40,000 donors, 77 percent of whom gave less than $200 each, said the aides, who expect the final figure to be slightly higher because money was still rolling in Wednesday.
The vice president's total is double the expected $3 million-plus that his lone Democratic challenger, former senator and professional basketball star Bill Bradley, expects to report for the same period, according to Bradley aides.
In Austin, Texas, Bush announced he has been raising money at a $2 million-a-week clip since he formed his presidential exploratory committee March 4 and will finish the month with more than $6 million.
The total is eye-catching because the Texas governor, unlike Gore, has not hosted a single fund-raiser yet or even formally announced his candidacy. All of the GOP hopeful's money was raised through telephone and mail appeals, his aides said. Gore has had four fund-raising events so far.
The total is also important because Bush, if he runs, is considering forgoing federal financing provided to presidential candidates in the primaries so he can free himself from spending limits and better compete with millionaire publisher Steve Forbes for the GOP nomination. Forbes is spending much of his own money and has not provided his fund-raising totals.
To forgo federal matching funds, experts predict Bush will have to raise $50 million or more, substantially more than the $30 million President Clinton raised as a popular incumbent in his primary re-election in 1996.
"This is a great start, but I recognize that we have a lot of work ahead," Bush said.
Other potential GOP presidential candidates such as Sen. John McCain of Arizona, former Vice President Dan Quayle, conservative activist Gary Bauer and former Red Cross chairwoman Elizabeth Dole are all expected to finish the first three months of 1999 with $3 million or less in fund raising.
Both the Texas governor and Gore have raised money far faster than former President Bush did in the first quarter of 1987 when, as the vice president vying to replace Ronald Reagan in an open race, he raised $2.4 million and was the top fund-raiser in either party.
The record for the first three months of a two-year presidential election cycle still belongs to Texas Sen. Phil Gramm, who raised more than $8 million in the first quarter of 1995 for a GOP presidential bid that eventually stalled and died.
The Gore and Bush efforts continue a trend over the last decade in which candidates raise money faster and earlier as states have compressed ther primary election schedules to the early part of 2000.
"It's because the big states involved, California and New York, have pushed up their primaries so much and they are very expensive states," said Herb Alexander, a professor emeritus at the University of Southern California who has studied political fund-raising for four decades. "And that is the biggest problem for candidates coming out of relatively inexpensive states like Iowa and New Hampshire there's not enough time to raise money after then."
"In 1976, Jimmy Carter had something like five weeks after New Hampshire and the next primary and that was the time he could raise money, but that doesn't exist anymore," he said.
Gore's campaign is stressing its smaller donations, hoping to distance the vice president from the 1996 Clinton fund-raising controversies over big donors. "We have gotten support from people of all levels, from farmers to doctors and small business people to retired people, and we are very grateful," campaign manager Craig Smith said.
The presidential candidates will formally report their totals to the Federal Election Commission on April 15.
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