One consequence of Hillary Rodham Clinton’s presidential ambitions: The entry fee for presidential candidates is becoming titanic.
In 2003, political strategist Joe Trippi told reporters that the eventual Democratic nominee—he hoped it would be Howard Dean—could raise more than $200 million if he withdrew from the public financing system. Trippi was right; when John Kerry did so, his fundraising rate eclipsed that of George W. Bush in 2004.
Trippi now tells Democrats he thinks a Clinton candidacy could raise twice that amount—maybe as much as $500 million. Democrats are listening.
Would-be candidates like former Virginia governor Mark Warner and Indiana senator Evan Bayh must convince donors that they can raise a credible amount of money and defeat Clinton in some early primaries.
Their challenge is complicated by the delicate task of asking donors to risk affronting the Clintons by supporting someone else.
Bayh’s advisers are scouring donor lists for newbies—people who weren’t big players during the Bill Clinton era—and he’s spending nearly every weekend on the road fundraising, even at the expense of courting voters. He skipped a Florida Democratic conference in December to raise $40,000 in Houston.
Republican possibles like Senator John McCain and Governor Mitt Romney worry about the months between when the nominee is essentially chosen and the 2008 party conventions, when the Clinton juggernaut could punish the Republican nominee with an onslaught of attack ads. And they expect Clinton, if nominated, to opt out of the system for the general election as well, allowing her to spend as much as she can raise rather than only the $85 million or so she’d get from the government.
Candidates of both parties agree on the solution: Forget federal matching funds and the spending limits that come with them.
And work fast. Thomas D. Rath, the New Hampshire Republican Party committeeman, says he tells Republican hopefuls that they ought to have $50 million in the bank by January 2008.
For Democrats the figure is slightly lower—$20 to $40 million, depending on how much Clinton raises in 2007. If they can’t raise more than $10 million by 2008, they’d better hope to win Iowa or New Hampshire and let momentum carry them through.