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New Twists in the Money Chase

Hillary Clinton imported some pop star power--American Idol runner-up Katharine McPhee--at a fundraiser earlier this summer. (AP).

Money will once again be the obsession of the 2008 presidential candidates over the next two weeks as they press supporters for cash before the latest campaign finance deadline on Sept. 30. And because so many potential donors are on vacation and not focused on politics in July and August, this end of the month fundraising blitz will be particularly important. The finance reports will be formally released around Oct 15, but count on the campaigns with good news to report to disclose how much they raised well before that date.

The campaigns are trying some innovative ways to inspire donors, many of whom have already given money in the first half of the year. Barack Obama will appear at a huge rally that will feature the artist Usher and former NBA star Dominique Wilkins in Atlanta on Thursday, Hillary Clinton is holding a fundraiser in Charlottesville, Virginia with author John Grisham, while Rudy Giuliani heads to London this week to meet with Margaret Thatcher and raise money among ex-pats there.

While he travels to close to a dozen fundraisers in California, Florida and other places, the campaign of Mitt Romney is trying an unusual tactic: holding "rallies" in cities around the country where supporters will gather and call friends, with each trying to raise $1,000 for the campaign. The concept replicates how Romney started the campaign with a call-athon in Boston that raised more than $6.5 million. Fred Thompson's campaign has started a contest to get small towns to raise money, promising the town with "most donations per capita" will get a visit from the candidate. The actor and ex-Tennessee Senator himself will raise money in his home state and Texas and Florida this week.

In the still largely undefined GOP race, this fundraising period could prove critical. Senator John McCain says his campaign has drastically cut spending since a meltdown over the summer rendered the campaign all but broke and led to the resignations of the campaign manager and chief strategist. But if McCain hasn't raised enough money to run strong operations in Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina, it will be tough for him to continue competing and be perceived as a top-tier candidate.

Former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee, who finished a strong second in Ames straw poll last month, raised only $1.3 million in the first six months of the year. Another dismal showing in the fundraising will take away momentum from a candidate who has seen the media attention he has craved increase dramatically since Ames. After leading the Republican field in fundraising in the first three months of the campaign with $21 million, Romney had a severe drop-off, raising only $12 million from April to June and loaned his campaign $6.5 million. Romney's personal fortune is an insurance policy against weak fundraising numbers, but low totals in the second quarter suggested he had not yet expanded his support base.

The biggest unknown is how much the newest GOP entrant into the field, Fred Thompson, raised and if that number will reflect diminished donations to Romney, Giuliani or McCain. Thompson's first two weeks in the race didn't impress much of the press that followed him, as he seemed to stumble over basic questions at times, but his poll numbers have continued to soar, as he's just behind Giuliani for second place in many polls after just entering the race. Thompson's celebrity is such he may not have to raise the $32 million that Romney has already spent in the campaign. On the hand, his non-campaign campaign has been going since at least July, so if his numbers are far below the other candidates, it may suggest his appeal is not as strong as the polls have shown.

On the Democratic side, Obama's fundraising has been unprecedented, both in the total amount of dollars ($58 million) and the number of donors (more than 250,000. It's also the only place he's leading, with Clinton ahead in most national polls and John Edwards or Clinton leading in many surveys of Iowa. A Clinton win in the fundraising could further cement the feeling among Democrats that the New York Senator is solidifying her status as frontrunner in the race. Edwards had trailed far behind Obama and Clinton in fundraising and it will be worth watching how donors perceive his chances of winning. Bill Richardson has been rising in polls in Iowa and Chris Dodd just won a coveted endorsement from the firefighters, and those factors may help their fundraising.

The other unknown is whether the scandal of Norman Hsu, the embattled Clinton fundraiser, will effect the race for cash at all. Several campaigns have signaled they will more closely vet so-called bundlers to make sure they haven't violated laws or don't have scandals surrounding them.

--Perry Bacon Jr.

By Post Editor  |  September 17, 2007; 9:33 AM ET
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