Finding Funds Remains Job One for Candidates

A fundraiser for Sen. Hillary Clinton illustrates the campaign gold rush taking place as presidential hopefuls from both parties seek to raise enough cash to make a strong showing by the end of this year's first quarter.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

The presidential campaign of Hillary Clinton is about $2.7 million richer after her first big Washington fundraiser last night. White House hopefuls for both parties are in a rush to raise cash before March 31st, when it's time to compare their first quarter totals.

NPR's Peter Overby reports.

PETER OVERBY: Tickets started at $1,000, seats on the event committee at $10,000. Everyone was thrilled with Clinton's speech, and with her husband's introduction as well. Bill Clinton remembered how they started dating 35 years ago and he told her then that she was the best politician of their generation.

President BILL CLINTON: The only issue now is who would be the best president. I give you the person who, for 35 years, I have always believed would be the best America can offer. Thank you.

(Soundbite of cheering)

Senator HILLARY CLINTON (Democrat, New York): Oh, thank you so much. Thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you.

OVERBY: And when an anti-war demonstrator stood up and began shouting slogans, the junior senator from New York picked up on it.

Sen. CLINTON: You know, I understand - I understand the frustration and the outrage at this administration's policy in Iraq, but I will say that unless we get support from Republicans in the Senate, we're not going to changeā€¦

OVERBY: And she added this about President Bush.

Sen. CLINTON: If he is not extricate us from Iraq before he leaves office, I will as president.

(Soundbite of cheering)

OVERBY: The event strongly resembled another Washington, D.C. kick off when held by candidate George W. Bush in 1999. Both crowds, then and now, came from the city's political and lobbying elite in their usual Washington palette of navy blue to charcoal to black. And both candidates skimped on the food. Clinton joked about it.

Sen. CLINTON: You know, we're running a very tight ship in the campaign, which is why we didn't give you dinner.

(Soundbite of laughter)

OVERBY: All of the 2008 presidential hopefuls are shaking the money trees. This week and next somebody has a fundraiser practically every day. Republican Senator John McCain alone has 10 events scheduled including his big Washington reception tonight. And when the books close March 31st, Clinton, Senator Barack Obama and former Senator John Edwards are expected to report at least $20 million each. Other Democrats including New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson and Senators Christopher Dodd and Joseph Biden aim to have respectable totals, as Richardson put it.

On the Republican side, McCain, former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani and former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney are expected to easily outraise the other candidates. Mark Gorenberg, a venture capitalist in San Francisco, is raising money for Obama. He says Obama is inspiring and he says donors are just waiting to be asked.

Mr. MARK GORENBERG (Venture capitalist): I think there's a huge meritocracy that's taking place where basically anyone willing to role up their sleeves and contact their friends are able to be significant players in these campaigns and feel good about what their doing.

OVERBY: In every presidential election money plays a bigger role early on, this time it's because so many states have moved up their primaries to February 5th. There's almost no breathing room after the Iowa Caucuses on January 14th. That's scrambled everyone's strategies. Tony Corrado, a Colby College political scientist points to California, February 5th primary, more convention delegates than any other state, and a pattern of early voting by absentee ballot.

Mr. TONY CORRADO (Political Scientist, Colby College): You might have as much as 30 percent of the vote being cast by absentee ballot, and in many instances we'll have people casting their ballot in California before the voting takes place in Iowa or New Hampshire.

OVERBY: So candidates will have to pick and choose their states, but the more money they have, the fewer choices they'll have to make.

Peter Overby, NPR News, Washington.

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