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SCOTT SIMON, host:

The stroke of midnight tonight is the deadline for presidential campaigns to report how much money they've raised the first quarter of this year. The reports will be out on April 15th. You think you've got a big day coming.

The ability to raise money or not can make or break a presidential candidacy before a single vote is cast. But what are candidates spending that money on so early? I'm joined now by Anthony Corrado, professor of government, Colby College in Waterville, Maine. Professor Corrado, thanks very much for being with us.

Professor ANTHONY CORRADO (Government, Colby College): Well, thanks for inviting me, Scott.

SIMON: How much of the fundraising we've seen so far is what amounts to a game of chicken to scare off other candidates?

Prof. CORRADO: Well, certainly the top candidates are trying to play that game. What they're trying to do is separate themselves out from the rest of the pack as a way to show that they are inevitably going to be the leaders in this race. And so on each side of the aisle we have candidates, the top three, who are jockeying with each other for the first place position.

And then you have the rest of the pack more or less jockeying to try to establish themselves as the fourth candidate. So that one of the things we'll see in the next few weeks is whether some of the candidates who are far behind decide that they just don't have the wherewithal to go on and decide to drop out of the race.

SIMON: Are candidates just raising the money or are they spending it earlier than ever too?

Prof. CORRADO: Well, one of the most interesting things about this year's race is how much they're spending early on. While it's been the case in the past that some candidates began raising money in the first quarter of the year, before the election year, they tended to be fairly conservative with how they spent that money, in part because under the old public funding system, they had to restrict their spending and they wanted to save it for Iowa and New Hampshire. But what we're seeing this year with so many of the candidates planning to opt out of the public funding system, they're spending money just as quickly as they're raising it.

SIMON: What's there to spend it on at this point?

Prof. CORRADO: First, they're doing much more travel and more fundraising than ever before. So they're spending a lot of money on fundraising, staff, travel, and big events, from gala dinners to fundraising lunches and breakfast. The second thing they've been spending an enormous amount of money on is staff at this point.

Some of the top candidates already have more than 100 paid staff members, in part because the campaigns are trying to lock up some of the experienced political organizers, and also because they're trying to build out staffs in all these states that are going to vote early next year.

SIMON: When you talk about to lock up talent in a presidential campaign - I hate to compare everything to baseball - but is this the equivalent of the Red Sox trying to buy a player before the Yankees do? Not because they necessarily want to put him in the field but because they don't want the Yankees to do it.

Prof. CORRADO: Well, there's certainly a lot of that going on and that's not a bad analogy. Part of it also is the fact that, like in free agency, when you get an experienced player who's done this before and has proven results, you want that player on your team. So as a result, what we're seeing are many of the top political organizers who have worked in previous presidential campaigns are being recruited very heavily early on so that they can join these campaign staffs.

SIMON: What about the new primary lineup that's going to be coming in 2008? Does that also increase the velocity of fundraising?

Prof. CORRADO: It's certainly increased the velocity of fundraising and it's increased the velocity of spending. Because candidates are now not simply concentrating on Iowa and New Hampshire, but they're looking at Nevada, they're looking at South Carolina and many of the other states that are going to be voting early this year.

Plus, because we have so many candidates who are well known or who have captured the national attention, whether it be Senator Obama and Senator Clinton or Rudolph Giuliani, instead of candidates starting out in Iowa and New Hampshire with a small coffee or visiting a house with 20 people or stopping into a diner, we're seeing big campaign events already in Iowa and New Hampshire. You know, ballrooms, 500, 600 attendees, where candidates are making major speeches. And that certainly increases the cost of campaigning.

SIMON: Professor, thanks very much for speaking with us.

Prof. CORRADO: Thank you for having me, Scott.

SIMON: Anthony Corrado, professor of government at Colby College in Waterville, Maine.

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