Joe Pulls in Cash, But Howard Dean Hits the Jackpot

By E.J. Kessler

Published July 04, 2003, issue of July 04, 2003.
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Connecticut Senator Joseph Lieberman is hanging on to his presidential candidacy by the threads of his tzitzit after posting a second-quarter contributions filing that appears to have put him further back in the pack of Democratic contenders.

Lieberman brought in “about $5 million and still counting” in the quarter that closed June 30, according to his campaign — more than many expected, and much more than the $3 million his campaign made in the first quarter, but less than the amount raised by one of the hopefuls who trailed him in the first round.

Former Vermont governor Howard Dean, who brought in $2.6 million in the first quarter, surged to rake in $7.5 million in the second, largely on the strength of contributions solicited over the Internet. Dean’s momentum could serve to knock Lieberman out of what the inside-the-Beltway political class calls the “top tier” of the nine Democratic contenders, pundits said, and highlights Lieberman’s persistent weaknesses.

Lieberman’s figure represents “a good quarter, but when you look at the rest of the field, [Lieberman’s] probably not going to get a huge bounce out of it because everyone is gaga over Dean,” said analyst Stuart Rothenberg. “Insiders think that Joe Lieberman has a long and difficult road to the nomination,” not because of how he did this quarter, “but because it’s hard to show an Iowa-New Hampshire scenario that keeps Lieberman’s hopes alive,” Rothenberg added. Dean’s strength eclipses Lieberman’s achievement and makes it harder for Lieberman to do well in the New Hampshire primary, Rothenberg said.

Dean’s camp, meanwhile, was crowing about what it said were the enormous possibilities of its Internet-based fundraising approach — and the boost the new technology gives its insurgent candidate.

The Internet “has the capacity to revolutionize the political process at the presidential level,” Dean’s national campaign co-chairman, Steve Grossman, told the Forward.

Grossman said that the small, average size of the contributions Dean has collected through the Internet — $74 — means that many more of those contributions can be paired with federal matching funds. He also touted the Internet’s “scalability,” — its ability to attract new contributors quickly and cheaply — as well as its implications for grass-roots organizing in primary states.

Mostly, however, Grossman said, Dean’s Internet gains illustrate his campaign’s momentum.

“The more the Democratic Party, the Democratic Leadership Council, the other candidates and the Washington power brokers make the case that Howard Dean is taking the Democratic Party over a cliff… the more regular, ordinary citizens say… ‘He’s my guy; he’s taking the country back for me,’” Grossman said. “He’s the only candidate who has taken the anger, the deep concern, and made it a positive force for fundraising.”

By contrast, the more traditional candidate, Lieberman, must struggle to attract the limelight, which in turn makes it even harder to attract funds, observers said.

Lieberman’s spokesman, Jano Cabrera, pooh-poohed such talk, however. “At the end of the day, this is about dollars and sense,” he said. “We’ll cede the dollars to Dean. We’ll expect the voters to use the good sense to vote for the candidate best-positioned to beat George Bush.”

In April, Lieberman campaign aides blamed his weak showing in the first-quarter filings on a late start in fundraising; they attributed the delay to his decision to refrain from announcing his candidacy until after former vice president Al Gore declared he would not enter the race. This quarter, however, all the players started out on an equal footing time-wise, so the campaign does not have any excuse, several analysts said.

Some compared Lieberman’s quarterly total to that of another lawmaker, Missouri Rep. Richard Gephardt, who also brought in some $5 million, according to news reports. Their similar numbers show that congressmen, whose jobs require them to build consensus, have trouble taking the strong stands they need to in order to distinguish themselves politically as presidential contenders, several observers said. Lieberman, one Democratic consultant said, is on a committee that had jurisdiction over the recent Enron and WorldCom scandals, and so “could have demagogued like crazy,” but did not. “It’s the problem of running from the Senate,” he said.

Other observers attributed Lieberman’s fundraising showing to a variety of factors inhibiting his campaign. One longtime Democratic strategist pointed to a lack of centralized leadership at the top of the campaign, with authority falling between the cracks of the three figures in the ruling triumvirate: chief of staff Sherry Brown, campaign director Craig Smith and adviser Tony Podesta. He said that Lieberman had raised only about $1.5 million in his home state of Connecticut — much less than did Massachusetts Senator John Kerry or Florida Senator Bob Graham in their home states. Like Rothenberg, the strategist also noted that the brightness of Dean is overshadowing Lieberman.

“What Dean did is extremely impressive,” the strategist said. “It makes you wonder why Lieberman can’t do among small-dollar Jews what Dean is doing among small-dollar activists and leftists. He’s just too conservative for the average Jew. If not, they’re with [President] Bush.”

Another strategist identified Lieberman’s problem as a need to attract “new money” — contributors who haven’t donated before.

“Bill Clinton went out and raised money from the usual Democratic suspects, but was able to bring in new money,” said fundraising consultant Scott Gale, adding that North Carolina Senator John Edwards, who has gotten most of his contributions from trial lawyers, is tapping new money, as is Dean. “If Lieberman’s number is that low, is he bringing in new money or not?” Gale asked.

News reports have speculated that Kerry and Edwards each brought in about $5 million, but they still lead the pack because they each raised more than $7 million in the first quarter.

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