Presidential Campaigns to Submit Fund Numbers

Presidential hopefuls will soon file their first quarter campaign reports. It will be a look into how well the campaigns are doing at raising money. Michele Norris talks with Jean Cummings of the news Web site The Politico about what to expect from the candidates and what it means for the continuing campaign.

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MICHELE NORRIS, host:

Presidential hopefuls are crisscrossing the country in a fierce race to build their war chest in the final days before the end of the first quarter cutoff for campaign finance reporting.

Jean Cummings has been trying to keep up with all those candidates and their drive for dollars. She covers campaign finance and lobbying in Washington for the Politico news site, and she's here in the studio with us.

Welcome to the program.

Ms. JEAN CUMMINGS (The Politico): Thank you.

NORRIS: So what's happening in these last days before the deadline? How intense is this?

Ms. CUMMINGS: It's very intense. You hear it from every weary lobbyist in this town that's being inundated with requests. They want every single penny they can get, because this has somehow turned into a real game of chicken between these campaigns, where nobody wants to flinch; everybody wants a big number up there and they want to scare out the people who don't have a lot of money. We had seen this dynamic once before in 2000, when President Bush came in, in the second quarter, which is the June report. And he had raised $29 million, and it was shock and awe for the Republican primary. And in short order candidates started just falling away, just dropping out.

NORRIS: So, money - it's not really about money. It's also about momentum.

Ms. CUMMINGS: It is. It's momentum, positioning, solidifying a frontrunner's status, you know, driving new donors to you so that they don't pick some other guy, because they say look at his money, he's not so great, I don't want to go that way. And they look to those top two or three people who can raise a lot of money in this first quarter as the people who've got the momentum, got the support, broad-based support, and they've become the frontrunners.

NORRIS: If there is a certain amount of chest-pounding going on, the candidates are actually trying to drive their rivals out of the race, I want to ask you about the intra-party rivalries. On the Republican side, the rivalry between Giuliani, McCain and Romney - how is that shaping up in terms of fund-raising?

Ms. CUMMINGS: They are very competitive. And what I'm hearing is that Romney started out fast. He held an event way back in January and surprised everyone by raising $6 million in pledges in a day. It was very, very impressive. So he's expected to do quite well. McCain, on the other hand, has said, well, I started late. But let's face it - he's a sitting senator who's run before who has an existing fundraising base. I think he's going to do quite well.

And Giuliani, meanwhile, is running under the radar screen, but he has held lots and lots of events on Wall Street - lots of money there.

NORRIS: And on the Democratic side, the classic rivalry that we hear so much about seemingly every day between Senators Clinton and Obama?

Ms. CUMMINGS: There will be big money posted there. If you look at Senator Clinton, her base is 25 million. And that is, you know, as much as many people raised in entire primaries. So that's where she sort of starts and goes up from there. Obama is drawing a lot of new donors. He is tapping into a class of midlevel, rising, young African-American executives on Wall Street, in L.A. law firms, in tech offices - high-tech offices in Seattle. He has tapped into an entirely new base of donors, and they've got money. The question, really, there is Edwards. Edwards has only said I'm going to beat my $17.4 million from four years ago. But if he really wants to stay competitive, he's got to beat it by a pretty good amount. I think they know that and they're going to come in with a good number.

NORRIS: They, the Edwards…

Ms. CUMMINGS: The Edwards campaign. But they have done the most to try to lower expectations for themselves.

NORRIS: Why do the candidates need this much money? Does the money - does the amount of money raised actually match the prospectus in terms of the amount of money they spent on organization and advertising, particularly with the primaries moved up? Or are they essentially raising money for the sake of raising money just to sort of set the momentum and set the field?

Ms. CUMMINGS: Right. Thee reason they're raising this kind of money is because the candidates themselves raising the bar and competing with one another, because the system doesn't require it.

NORRIS: Jean, thanks so much for coming in to talk to us.

Ms. CUMMINGS: You're welcome.

NORRIS: That was Jean Cummings. She covers campaign finance and lobbying in Washington for the Politico news site.

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