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Kerry shows a flair for raising money Senator's camp amasses $175m
By Patrick Healy, Globe Staff | July 1, 2004
PITTSBURGH -- It seemed so ambitious at the time: John F. Kerry's campaign announced a $20-million, 20-city fund-raising tour in early March to prove he could unite Democrats after a competitive primary season and to show up skeptics who thought the Massachusetts Democrat lacked Bill Clinton's magic touch with donors.
In short order, Kerry proved his doubters wrong -- combining a yen for fund-raising that surprised some Democrats who had heard that their nominee was aloof, with a drumbeat in his stump speeches that each check, each online contribution, each fund-raiser ticket brought the party ''one step closer to the end of the Bush presidency."
The campaign shattered record after record during the spring: raising $26 million online in March alone, drawing in some 900,000 ''small-donation supporters" giving $100 or so apiece this spring, and holding cocktail receptions and concerts from New York to New Orleans to Los Angeles where Kerry has whipped up the crowds by announcing that they had set a record for fund-raising events.
Today, the Kerry campaign will announce that it has raised at least $175 million for the run-up to the general election in this presidential cycle, breaking the record that George W. Bush set in 2000 of more than $130 million. His challenger this year has come a long way from those days after the Super Tuesday primaries on March 2, when Jeffrey Birnbaum of The Washington Post predicted on Fox News that Kerry would raise ''a lot of money. . . but nothing like the $170, maybe $200 million in total that the Bush campaign will raise." (For its part, the Bush campaign is celebrating a tally in excess of $210 million, the new record.)
The secret of Kerry's success is no secret to anyone following his campaign schedule or listening to his exchanges with donors during the spring. As much as Kerry was busy introducing himself to voters nationwide, he also began headlining more and more big-money fund-raisers -- to the point where, in Baltimore this past Monday, and in Aspen and Denver a week earlier, the public took a backseat to wine-and-cheese affairs that dominated his itinerary. Some days, Kerry's cross-country schedules on his luxury 757 were dictated solely by his fund-raising. And the campaign found that donors were not waiting to fall in love with Kerry before writing checks; the Democrats' ''beat-Bush" message was worth as much gold as Kerry's political platform.
''People are so upset about the direction of the country under Bush, they'll do everything they can to stop him," said Ellen Malcolm, a top Democratic fund-raiser. ''I think even the Kerry campaign's success is highly motivated by people's desire to beat Bush. People are still getting to know Kerry, but the emotional energy and stamina for the donations comes from beating Bush."
Kerry, long known in Massachusetts as a prodigious fund-raiser, also showed through the spring that he was not one of those politicians who moan or is self-deprecating when asking for money. Even before large crowds whose members had already given generously to the campaign and the Democratic Party, Kerry would regularly, and enthusiastically, ask for more.
''All of you can help beyond what you've done here tonight -- and I don't mean to be greedy," Kerry told guests May 21 at a $1 million fund-raiser in New Canaan, Conn., hosted by the musician couple Paul Simon and Edie Brickell. ''But you really can."
The Massachusetts senator has climbed back a long way from December, when he loaned himself $6.4 million by taking out a mortgage on his Louisburg Square townhouse when his fund-raising was badly lagging. Kerry now has the option under federal campaign finance law to repay that loan with his fund-raising riches, but he is still mulling over that move, since it could spark a new line of Republican attack.
''The loan is still outstanding, and no final decision has been made," campaign spokesman Michael Meehan said yesterday.
While pressing the flesh has reaped rewards on the fund-raising trail, no single tactic has aided Kerry more than the Internet operation shaped by his longtime friend and former brother-in-law, David Thorne, and other allies. After the record-breaking March take of $26 million -- in large part from special e-mail appeals by Bill Clinton, Howard Dean, and other Democratic luminaries -- the campaign kept expanding its virtual world of support with $8 million online in April, $9 million in May, and at least $12 million in June
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