KAI RYSSDAL: More than the highly paid consultants or any spin-meister you can think of, the most important people in any presidential campaign this weekend are the accountants. They’re squeezing every last nickel out of donors and massaging the books — in only the most-legal way, of course — to make the war chest seem as big as possible.
Tomorrow at midnight’s the deadline to report first-quarter contributions. And win or lose a big part of the PR fight. As Marketplace’s Steve Henn explains, raising a lot of money early can help build momentum. And in a field crowded with political stars, the pressure to produce early eye-popping totals has been unusually intense.
PARTYGOER:Oh, calamari with a wasabi dipping sauce, horseradish sauce. It’s awfully good.
STEVE HENN: This is the sound of America’s first presidential primary: It’s the money race and it’s taking place in the living rooms of America’s millionaires.
CHRISTOPHER DODD: I’m the chairman of the Senate Banking and Housing Committee of the United States Senate. And part of my job is try and visit Section 8 housing when I travel.
[SOUND: Crowd laughter]
Last night, Senator Christopher Dodd was schmoozing big donors poolside in Pacific Palisades, California, a long way from public housing projects. The name of the game is big donors — and fast.
TONY CORRADO: We are going to see an enormous spike in the amount of money being raised.
That’s Tony Corrado, a campaign finance expert at Colby College.
CORRADO: We look at the first quarter in 2003, there was $31 million in all raised by all of the candidates. I expect in this election cycle, we are going to see four to five times that amount in the first quarter.
Carrado says half a dozen serious presidential candidates from both parties are in danger of being forced out of this race before a single vote is cast. That includes senators, governors and cabinet secretaries. Today, they are all candidates on the bubble.
Dodd is hoping to stay in the game.
TOM WERNER: You know, I think he is an extraordinary man.
His host last night was TV mogul Tom Werner. Werners’ friends kicked in $200,000 for Dodd.
Dodd hopes to raise at least $30 million for his presidential bid. By the end of the day tomorrow, he will need to have at least 7 million bucks in the bank just to stay credible, according to his own campaign.
DODD: First of all, I don’t support every Democratic candidate. But, this is not a huge amount of money for me.
Werner says he’s a huge Dodd fan but lately he’s been spreading his money around — giving it to multiple presidential candidates.
Evan Tracy tracks campaign spending for the Campaign Media Analysis Group. He’s never seen a money frenzy like this.
EVAN TRACY: We’ve moved into a different stratosphere.
Four years ago, the kind of money Dodd is shooting for would have put him among the front-runners. This year, Tracy says, he’s clearly second-tier and hoping to stay in the game long enough to catch fire.
TRACY: I think, all said and done, that the top tier candidates are going to need to raise between $75 and $100 million to be competitive throughout this process. Obviously, you can play with less money, but you are putting yourself at a severe disadvantage.
One reason is Super Duper Tuesday. On February 5th next year, up to 22 states could hold their presidential primaries — including some whoppers like California, Florida and New York.
That means campaigns flush with cash could start buying national ad time or airing ads in places like California as early as this summer.
TRACY: What they will spend total on Iowa TV will be barely enough to buy them a week-worth of California.
In mid-April, when the election filings become public, we’ll see which candidates can afford to compete.
In Washington, I’m Steve Henn for Marketplace.
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