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For all of the time and energy the presidential candidates have devoted to raising money, it's only January and those millions won't be enough. February 5th, with two dozen states in play, is big enough to break any bank account, so staying alive requires careful strategy.
NPR's Peter Overby explores how he candidates are playing the odds.
PETER OVERBY: Mitt Romney's battle cry today may be: On to South Carolina. But just a week ago, he was yanking his ads off the air down there so they could run in Michigan. In fact, Romney may have hit his low point a week ago today. That's when some of his big money-raisers went to work in a boiler-room-style setup. Romney gave them a pep talk.
Mr. MITT ROMNEY (Former Massachusetts Governor; Republican Presidential Candidate): So hit the phones today, make all the promises you have to, and I'm going to make sure the we get the funds that we need to keep on propelling this campaign forward with power and energy.
OVERBY: But later on, the numbers didn't look all that good - $5 million raised, but three-fourths of it from people who had already given the legal limit for the primaries. That means Romney could use only one and a half million of it now.
All of the Republicans are strapped for cash. GOP consultant, Eddie Mahe, says each of them has to pick a few states for February 5th and spend like mad in them.
Mr. EDDIE MAHE (Republican Consultant): If you don't win something on February 5th, the rest of the money isn't going to do you any good.
OVERBY: Rudolph Giuliani is targeting Florida, January 29th. Another Republican consultant, Bill Greener, notes that even if he wins there, Giuliani's bouts for February 5th could be limited.
Mr. BILL GREENER (Republican Consultant): I don't think that there are enough hours in the day or media time available if you had all the money in the world to pursue an advertising approach.
OVERBY: So on the fifth, Giuliani may run hardest on his home turf - New York, New Jersey and Connecticut. All three are winner-take-all states with a total of 183 delegates among them.
Observers say Mike Huckabee and Fred Thompson will likely find their campaigns cramped by lack of funds. But John McCain seems to have a lot of potential. After nearly going bust last summer, he celebrated a spike in online fundraising after winning New Hampshire.
Senator JOHN McCAIN (Republican, Arizona): That's the inevitable resolve to the victory in the right place (unintelligible).
OVERBY: But it was a behind-the-scenes move that really saved McCain's campaign. He had to borrow money, not unusual for a campaign. In the old days, when most candidates took federal matching funds, he would have borrowed against the promise of those funds. Instead, he used his campaign mailing list and future fundraising prospects to borrow against. That allowed him to forego matching funds even though he qualified for them.
It's critical, because the matching funds come with tight limits on spending. Limits that would have let McCain's rivals leave him in the dust. Again, Eddie Mahe.
Mr. MAHE: It was a brilliant one. Because if he would have gone matching funds, he couldn't have competed.
OVERBY: One Democrat, John Edwards, went the other way. Trailing far behind the fundraising of Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, he's qualified for nearly $9 million federal dollars. But there's that spending cap. It's less than either Clinton or Obama has already spent. Edwards' campaign manager, David Bonior, insists that's okay.
Mr. DAVID BONIOR (John Edwards' Campaign Manager): We believe with the $54 million cap and with the judicious spending through the primary and the caucus season that we can be and will be competitive throughout.
OVERBY: Clinton and Obama each raised about $100 million last year. But that doesn't mean they're letting up. Last week, Clinton's finance director, Jonathan Mantz, was at a conference call urging the campaign's money people to bring in another $10,000 a piece this month.
Mr. JONATHAN MANTZ (Finance Director, Clinton Campaign): With 500 people in this call, I want to have everyone do as much as they can and make a special effort this week to fulfill the full $10,000 that each of you, I know, can raise. You know, $10,000 is - you've gone so far past that level. Go back to your networks and go back to the people that have been - that have not made the decision to contribute or support, and so you can go back to them.
OVERBY: Last year, the two top Democrats could afford to plan ahead and think big. But now, they're going to have to pick and choose their states just like everybody else.
Peter Overby, NPR News, Washington.
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