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The Friday Line: Winning the 2008 Money Primary

It's time for the most hotly debated of Friday Line topics -- the early standings in the 2008 presidential sweepstakes.

With year-end fundraising reports flooding into the Federal Election Commission over the past few days, money is the focus of this month's presidential Line.

At this stage of the 2008 race, fundraising is the most tangible measure of a candidate's viability. These men (and woman) travel the country day to day and week to week trying to convince donors to make an investment in their political futures. How donors respond tells us a lot about where a certain candidate stands in the eyes of the two parties' deep-pocket contributors.

Five Democrats and four Republicans made the Line this week as fundraising winners. How much each candidate raised -- both into a personal campaign committee and any affiliated leadership political action committee -- was the major factor in making these determinations, but The Fix also took into account the expectations game and how money much each candidate passed on to other candidates  over the last year.

The candidates are listed alphabetically.

The Democrats

Indiana Sen. Evan Bayh: Bayh spent more time in 2005 courting donors than any other potential 2008 Democratic candidate, and it paid off.  He raised $3.1 million for his Senate committee and ended the year with a whopping $9.5 million in the bank -- all of which could be transferred directly to a presidential campaign. Bayh's All-America PAC also performed admirably, raising $1.5 million last year.  Bayh's success -- coupled with that of fellow moderate Mark Warner -- complicates the picture for Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack, who presumably is seeking to tap into the same centrist money spigot.

Delaware Sen. Joe Biden: We heard rumblings from time to time last year that Biden was moving around the fundraising circuit much more than was being reported in the media. Well, those rumblings were right.  Biden brought in $2.6 million for the year to his Senate account, according to his office, and another $550,000 to his newly-formed Unite Our States leadership PAC.  Remember that Biden was a financial force in the 1988 presidential primaries; he raised nearly $4 million (a lot of cash in those days) before dropping out in September 1987.  Much of Biden's finance team is still politically active and remains tremendously loyal to him.

New York Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton: Clinton raised approximately $21 million for her reelection race last year -- a massive total even by her own lofty standards. Overall, Clinton has topped $33 million raised for her 2006 reelection bid, which, at the moment, looks to be a cakewalk.  Clinton ended 2005 with $17 million in her Senate account , a total likely to grow considerably over the next 9 months. Her aides downplay talk of a presidential bid in 2008, but with a $25 million (or more) warchest in November 2006, it might be hard to turn such a race down.

Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry: Party insiders may insist that a 2008 candidacy is a non-starter after his 2004 loss, but Kerry sought to prove them wrong in 2005 with a very solid fundraising effort. The party's last presidential nominee raised $3.4 million through his Senate committee and another $2.2 million through his leadership vehicle -- Keeping America's Promise. Kerry adopted the strategy that to give is better than to receive as well -- doling out $3 million to Democratic candidates and committees over the past 12 months.

Former Virginia Gov. Mark Warner: The "it" boy of Democratic presidential politics, Warner moved to capitalize on his momentum with a massive kick-off fundraiser for his Forward Together PAC in December. That event raised nearly $3 million. Altogether, Warner raked in $3.4 million for Forward Together, a total that should put to rest questions of whether he can raise hard dollars. (Candidates for state offices in Virginia are not bound by any contribution limits.) Warner gave away less than $75,000 to state parties and Democratic candidates between Oct. 1 and Dec. 31 -- contributions that included $14,000 to the New Hampshire Democratic State Senate Caucus, $5,000 to the Iowa Democratic Party and $10,000 to the New Hampshire Democratic State Committee.

Republicans

Virginia Sen. George Allen: Up for reelection in 2006, Allen raised roughly $7 million for his Senate fund in 2005 and ended the year with $6.2 million in the bank. The biggest question mark surrounding Allen's financial standing for 2008 is how much money his '06 Democratic opponent -- Harris Miller -- decides to put into the race. If Miller, who is personally wealthy, starts making seven-figure donations, Allen will be forced to dip into his campaign account, cutting into resources that could fund the start-up costs of a presidential exploratory committee.

Tennessee Sen. Bill Frist: As noted recently in this space, Frist's fundraising prowess has kept alive his hopes for the 2008 nomination despite a disastrous year politically in 2005. Frist's Volunteer PAC continued to set the pace among leadership committees, raking in $3.5 million last year and doling out $3.7 million. While Frist continued to sprinkle donations to every imaginable Republican both in Congress and key early caucus and primary states, VOLPAC also spent considerable sums this year on broadening its donor list. VOLPAC can't transfer any money directly to a Frist presidential effort, but it can sell its beefed-up national donor list to a Frist presidential committee.

Former New York City Rudolph Giuliani: Hizzoner stayed out of the political limelight in 2005, focusing on -- frankly -- making money. But he found time to raise some too -- for his Solutions America PAC, which brought in $304,000 and ended the year with $343,000 in the bank.  And don't forget Giuliani still has $2 million sitting in a Senate account dating from his abbreviated bid for the Senate against Clinton in 2000.  In that contest, Giuliani raised $25 million, a sign that he will be a major fundraising player on the Republican side if he decides to run in 2008.

Arizona Sen. John McCain: McCain restarted his Straight Talk America political action committee in the fall and raised an impressive $2.4 million for it in a few short months. McCain ended the year with $1.2 million on hand in the Straight Talk account, and another $1 million in the bank in his Senate committee. Straight Talk donated $15,000 each to the Republican National Committee, the National Republican Senatorial Committee and the National Republican Congressional Committee.  The PAC also gave $5,000 to Rep. Jim Nussle's bid for governor in Iowa and a handful of candidates for House and Senate.

The comments area below is open for discussion.

By Chris Cillizza  |  February 3, 2006; 6:55 AM ET
Categories:  Eye on 2008 , The Line  
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