The 2008 Candidates and the Money Game

Democratic strategist Ron Walters and GOP strategist the Rev. Joseph Watkins talk with Juan Williams about campaign fundraising for the upcoming presidential election. Does an early lead necessarily mean election success?

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FARAI CHIDEYA, host:

I'm Farai Chideya and this is NEWS & NOTES.

Now let's turn to NPR's senior correspondent Juan Williams for the latest from the nation's capital in Political Corner.

JUAN WILLIAMS: We're joined by Ron Walters, professor of political science at the University of Maryland. Professor Walters' latest book is called "Freedom is Not Enough." He was an adviser to the first campaign that Jesse Jackson had for president.

Also with us, Reverend Joseph Watkins, part of the government relations group at Buchanan, Ingersoll & Rooney. Reverend Watkins is a former aide to the first President George W. Bush during his time at the White House. Professor Walters, Reverend Watkins, thanks for joining us.

Reverend JOSEPH WATKINS (Government Relations Group, Buchanan, Ingersoll & Rooney): Thank you, Juan.

Professor RON WALTERS (Political Science, University of Maryland): Good to be here.

WILLIAMS: Let's begin with the news about Barack Obama. The Illinois senator raised about $25 million in the first quarter of his efforts to become the Democrats' nominee for president of the United States. This is astounding by any measure, given that his primary rival, Senator Hillary Clinton of New York state, raised 26 million but she's Hillary Clinton. And she went in with a tremendous base of fundraisers, and of course the advantage of being Bill Clinton, former president's wife. Joe Watkins, what do you make of this?

Rev. WATKINS: Well, this is very, very good news for Barack Obama because not only has he managed to raised $25 million, which keeps him at pace with Hillary Rodham Clinton, but the same time the majority of that money, something like $23 million of it, has been dedicated for the primary.

What's even better for Barack Obama is the fact that he has gotten his money from as many as over 100,000 different donors, which means that he has gotten a lot of small contributions, which means that these same folks can come back and give him another contribution, and which means that he has a good chance to raise $100 million in 2007.

WILLIAMS: Joe Watkins, you sound excited about this Democrat.

Rev. WATKINS: I'm a Republican, of course, and everybody knows that. But these are extraordinary numbers and I don't know that anybody was expecting him to do as well as he did, given the fact that he is so new to the game and that it was expected that Hillary would do well.

WILLIAMS: Ron Walters, what about the idea that he's a black Democrat? Has any black candidate ever raised this amount of money?

Prof. WALTERS: Absolutely not, and I think you characterized it very well. Having raised $25 million against the odds and against Hillary Clinton with the tremendous fasciae of her husband, Bill Clinton, I would have to say that he probably is the fundraising leader with - only a million dollars separates the two. That is incredible.

Joe talked about the 100,000 people. Well, half of this money was raised on the Internet, which means that what he did was to go Howard Dean one better and create - and even perfect, I think - this technique of raising these large sums of money. Funny, what I would say is that 100,000 people, small donations -when you look at some of the stops that he's made, what that also means is that a lot of these people that we had questions about, you know, I'm talking about the people who showed up at all of his venues for curiosity's sake, for the entertainment value, to test see him with the garment.

We political scientists say that, well, yeah, a black candidate - whites are going to vote for him. Sure, they're going to vote for him. What this means, really, is that a lot of these people are really serious about voting for this guy because they're supporting him financially.

WILLIAMS: All right. Gentlemen, let's talk about the Republican side. It's also interesting because I think everybody is equally stunned that Mitt Romney, the former governor of Massachusetts, has been able to take the lead in fundraising on the GOP side. So I started with the Republican talking about the Democrats. Let me start with a Democrat talking about the Republicans. Ron Walters, what do you make of Mitt Romney's early success?

Prof. WALTERS: Well, I think there are a couple of things here. One is the preparation. I think Mitt Romney had a whole series of people in his state that he went back to. He had a base of funding there that really was turning out very well for him. He also has been able to capitalize on his religion because the tremendous sums of money have come in to his campaign through many of his religious donors.

WILLIAMS: This is very interesting now. Joe Watkins, Ron Walters didn't mention it, but Mitt Romney is a Mormon and there have been lots of polls indicating that voters are uncomfortable - I think it's a fair assessment - with the idea of a candidate being a Mormon. But here it looks like it's a positive. Do you agree with Ron Walters' assessment?

Rev. WATKINS: I think that as people learn more about Mitt Romney, it will be less of an issue. This is a guy who is wonderfully qualified, and he's demonstrating it by his actions. Now one of the things that was an early indicator to me that he was going to be a real contender in this was the fact that, unlike any other candidate, on a single day in January of this year he raised $6.5 million. That far outstrips anybody on either the Democratic or the Republican side for a single day of fundraising.

WILLIAMS: So what does it mean among Republicans that he has the lead? And I might say he has a lead, having raised 20 million, as I understand it. Rudolph Giuliani, the former mayor of New York, $15 million. John McCain, the senator from Arizona, only $12.5 million. And I think many people would have assumed that it was going to be McCain who would have the early lead. McCain, in fact, is trailing.

Rev. WATKINS: Well, John McCain is a great candidate. And he got started a little bit late, so that really accounts for the fact that he wasn't able to raise as much as some of the others. He's been so busy with his Senate work that he hasn't spent as much time with fundraising. But I think that's going to all change now in the second quarter.

WILLIAMS: The lone Hispanic candidate on either side is Bill Richardson, the governor of New Mexico. And he didn't do too bad, raised about $6 million. What does this mean to either one of you?

Prof. WALTERS: Well, I think that he's got a long way to go. Six million dollars continues to put him in the race and give him confidence. But, you know, what's been interesting to me is that here is the president of the United States giving him, in fact, a diplomatic delegation and a job. I think there's a set-up going on here.

WILLIAMS: What's the set-up?

Prof. WALTERS: What is the job?

COX: Well, the job is he's going to lead a delegation going to North Korea.

Prof. WALTERS: There you go.

WILLIAMS: And to discuss with the North Koreans not only humanitarian interests but some of their nuclear capacity. It's part of this new deal that the U.S. has with North Korea to try to get them to stop developing nuclear weapons.

Rev. WATKINS: Why is it that President Bush gave him this mission? I think that he has something, of course, in terms of looking at the Democratic Hispanic vote in 2008. It might have been behind that. But I also think, given some of the other moves that have been made here, that the Republicans are trying to play democratic politics to their advantage.

WILLIAMS: All right. Ron Walters is a professor of political science at the University of Maryland. Reverend Joseph Watkins is part of the government relations group at Buchanan, Ingersoll & Rooney. Gentlemen, thank you so much for joining us on Political Corner.

Rev. WATKINS: Thanks so much, Juan.

Prof. WALTERS: Thank you, Juan.

CHIDEYA: NPR's Juan Williams brings us news from the capital every Thursday right here on Political Corner.

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