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Seven Democratic fund-raising clues

As presidential contenders report their second-quarter fund-raising totals, political pros will scrutinize them for signs of strength. Howard Dean’s campaign said it collected nearly $6.5 million, lending credence to the notion that Dean may be the man to beat.
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As Democratic presidential contenders report their second-quarter fund-raising totals over the next few days, political professionals will scrutinize them for signs of strength or weakness. Former Vermont governor Howard Dean’s campaign said that as of mid-day Monday it had collected nearly $6.5 million for the quarter. Dean could end up with more cash for the quarter than any other Democratic contender — which would lend credence to the notion that he may be the front-runner for the nomination at this point.

Even before Dean reported his total some Democratic strategists in Washington had begun to regard him as the man to beat.

Money matters not only because it pays for TV advertising and hiring organizers in early caucus and primary states such as Iowa, but because it impresses potential donors and creates a sense of momentum.

DONORS WATCHING “The big donors are watching very carefully to see who has got the money coming in and who is stumbling,” said Larry Makinson, a campaign finance analyst at the Center for Responsive Politics, a non-partisan research group in Washington.

While $6.5 million for one quarter might seem like a large number, to put it in perspective, consider that President Bush raised $5 million in just one 10-hour tour of California last Friday. For the entire quarter the Bush campaign will likely report a total of $30 million.

Second-quarter fund-raising ends Monday. Here are seven things to look for in the reports which will be released by each campaign over the next several days:

How big is the Dean phenomenon? Dean has gotten an enthusiastic reception from audiences in Iowa, New Hampshire, California and other states, stirring the kind of passion that John McCain kindled in his 2000 race for the GOP nomination. Right now, Dean gives the most energetic and cogent stump speech of any of the contenders.

That passion seems to have generated big dollars. Last week, in an apparent case of “low-balling” expectations, the Dean camp said it might raise about $4 million for the second quarter. He has beaten that number by 50 percent.

Best of all for Dean would be if it turned out that he raised more in the quarter than his chief rival in New Hampshire, Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts.

Dean’s Internet and e-mail appeals for money. “His headline is the kind of fund-raising he’s doing online,” said Democratic campaign consultant Cathy Allen, who is not working for any of the presidential hopefuls. Will Dean’s campaign staff prove that they have opened a new frontier in reaching younger, affluent, web-connected voters?

Cash on hand and “cash burn.” What matters is not only how much money a candidate has raised, but how quickly he spends it by hiring staff, pollsters, and advertising consultants. Kerry topped the cash-on-hand list for the first quarter with $8 million. Will he remain king of the hill in ready cash?

Can Sen. Joe Lieberman’s second-quarter receipts make people forget his weak first quarter? Some party strategists were taken aback when Lieberman reported collecting only $3 million in the first quarter. Another middling-to-poor quarter would raise questions about the viability of Lieberman’s candidacy.

“A key indicator is whether those who did poorly in the first quarter, like Lieberman, pick up, or whether those first-quarter numbers become a self-fulfilling prophecy,” said Randy Pepple, a former Republican congressional aide and campaign consultant.

Is Edwards soaring or sputtering? Edwards made headlines back in April when he reported a take of $7.4 million for the first quarter, edging Kerry. One strategist called the Edwards first-quarter feat “eye-popping.”

But was that as good as it gets for the North Carolina senator? “We’re looking at staying power for him” in the second-quarter data, said Allen.

“Edwards got the buzz when he raised $7.4 million. To the extent that he does not raise $7.4 million this time, does he lose the buzz?” asked a Democratic strategist with one of the presidential campaigns.

Edwards is in the odd position of being a first-tier candidate as measured by the amount of money he has raised, but decidedly a second-tier candidate as measured by polling data. He wins only three or four percent in the most recent Iowa and New Hampshire polls, far behind Kerry, Dean, Lieberman and Rep. Dick Gephardt.

Did Sen. Bob Graham of Florida raise enough to convince donors that he can be a genuine contender? Graham has impressive credentials, as a Southerner, former governor, and former Intelligence Committee chairman. His performance as a stump speaker, however, has been lackluster.

Even if his own fund-raising numbers are not smashing, is Graham having an important effect on the race by soaking up Florida donor dollars that otherwise would have gone to Lieberman?

Are senators finding their day jobs too time-consuming? The four senators in the race, Graham, Edwards, Kerry and Lieberman, have been missing votes on the Senate floor because they’ve been out lunching and dining with donors. Last week, the four were absent for a series of votes on amendments to the prescription drug entitlement for senior citizens which the Senate approved late Thursday.

True, the margin in these votes was not close enough that they would have been affected by the presence of the senators, but at some point will these missed votes open the senators to renewed criticism from Dean? Already the Republican National Committee is issuing periodic tallies of how many roll call votes the Democratic contenders are missing.

Back in March, Dean lambasted Edwards and Kerry for being absent during a Senate vote to outlaw the procedure known as partial-birth abortion. Dean did not mention that the bill passed by a vote of 64 to 33, so Edwards and Kerry would have made no difference to the outcome.