Joe Claims Cash Surge, Reversing Slow Start

By E.J. Kessler

Published April 11, 2003, issue of April 11, 2003.
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After a faltering start in the first quarter of the year, the presidential campaign of Connecticut Senator Joseph Lieberman raked in between $300,000 and $400,000 in contributions during the first week of April, more than it received in the entire month of January.

“Once we hit our stride, we really hit our stride,” said campaign spokesman Jano Cabrera. “We expect to have a much stronger go-around this quarter than last.”

What’s more, according to Lieberman’s finance chairman, Mitchell Berger, the international situation and the moves of some of Lieberman’s rivals for the Democratic nomination — including Massachusetts Senator John Kerry, North Carolina Senator John Edwards and former Vermont governor Howard Dean — are redounding in Lieberman’s favor.

“The politics of this situation are flowing toward Joe Lieberman, not away from Joe Lieberman,” Berger told the Forward. “Howard Dean is challenging John Kerry extensively on the left wing of the party. John Edwards sounds more like Joe Lieberman every day, supporting the president on the war, sounding more and more moderate.”

Kerry, after supporting President Bush’s Iraq war resolution, angled himself leftward last week. In a speech in New Hampshire, he quipped that Bush’s diplomacy had so alienated America’s allies that “what we need now is not just a regime change in Saddam Hussein and Iraq, but we need a regime change in the United States.” The remark prompted a storm of flak from congressional Republicans, who seized on it to impugn Kerry’s judgment and patriotism.

Dean, meanwhile, has been snip-ing at Kerry from the left about what Dean has characterized as Kerry’s wavering war stance.

Whatever the politics of the moment, the infusion of cash was a welcome sign for Lieberman, whose campaign significantly lagged expectations in the first-quarter contribution filings registered at the Federal Election Commission March 31. Lieberman, a nationally known figure from his 2000 vice presidential run, came in fourth in the Democratic field in that crucial measure of campaign viability, disappointing many analysts who had predicted his name recognition would give him an edge in the money race.

Given the Lieberman campaign’s disparity with the top earners, some of the assessments were harsh.

Lieberman “got his butt kicked,” said one Democratic strategist not aligned with any campaign, speaking on condition of anonymity. “People are first meeting John Kerry and John Edwards, and they are giving them tons of money. Howard Dean — this is all new money for him.”

The strategist said that Lieberman’s showing might belie the notion that the Jewish supporters of other campaigns also would give to Lieberman — an idea not exactly discouraged by the Lieberman campaign. Or it may indicate that Lieberman’s centrist politics are too conservative for many of the liberal Jews who provide the bulk of contributions to Democratic presidential campaigns.

The Connecticut senator garnered about $3 million by the end of the first quarter, which his campaign attributed to the late start it got because it held off fundraising until Lieberman’s 2000 running mate, former vice president Al Gore, declared he would not enter the race. That figure was only $400,000 ahead of Dean, whose grassroots, insurgent campaign managed to bring in a surprisingly strong $2.6 million despite the fact that Dean started the period as a virtual unknown. More glaringly, however, Lieberman’s numbers trailed by millions those of Edwards, who surprised most observers by topping the field with about $7.4 million, and Kerry — the field’s presumed frontrunner — with about $7 million.

Some independent strategists were sanguine about Lieberman’s prospects.

“In the end, Joe Lieberman is going to have the resources he needs,” said Washington communications strategist Marla Romash. “Joe has a proven ability to raise money. He’ll do what he needs to do.”

Berger, the finance chairman, bristled at the notion that the filing showed any inherent weakness in Lieberman’s candidacy. The disparity in the numbers “shows we didn’t have a campaign operation in place until March 1. If [those contentions were] correct, we wouldn’t have raised $2.2 million in March.”

Although the first week of April’s total lags behind Lieberman’s average weekly take during March, Berger noted that the last weeks of any quarter bring a flood of contributions. Bearing that in mind, Berger said, the $300,000 to $400,000 Lieberman raised in the first week of April is on target, adding that the senator is adhering to an “ambitious” fundraising schedule.

“He’s doing what you do — breakfast, lunch and two dinners,” Berger said, ticking off events during the next few weeks in California, Colorado, Illinois, Wisconsin, Connecticut, New Jersey, Washington, Florida, New York, Ohio, Tennessee, Illinois, Utah, Nevada and Washington, D.C.

Berger also pointed out that “with respect to fundraising, the people who turn the corner in the first quarter don’t necessarily win the nomination.… Bill Clinton was nowhere near the top earner in 1992 first quarter.… I would have been very disappointed if we hadn’t done well in March. That, for me, is the test for us.”

For Romash, the “real story” of the filings was not any weakness on Lieberman’s part, but the bracing showing of Edwards. In New York, for example, Edwards’s supporters noted that the senator had tried to outwork his rivals, hitting not just the usual money hotspots such as New York City but traveling as far afield as Buffalo and Rochester for fundraisers.

“He had an ambitious schedule and makes a very compelling presentation; that’s what it’s all about,” said a supporter, Straus Zelnick. “All of this is driven by individuals…. He’s connecting with people.”

Supporters of Kerry, for their part, did not seem concerned that Edwards had edged their man in the quarterly filing. “We exceeded our goals,” said a top Kerry supporter, Massachusetts philanthropist Alan Solomont. “We have more money in the bank than any other candidate had at this stage.”

In an interesting sidelight, Solomont confirmed the observation of a former finance chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, Florida attorney Jerry Berlin, that Kerry was attracting significant contributions from Republicans. Berlin told the Forward that “a lot of the money John is getting” comes from “dear friends” of the late Republican Senator John Heinz, whose widow, Teresa, is married to Kerry. “Some are doing it because Teresa asked, some because they are at the liberal end of the Republican spectrum,” Berlin said.

Solomont, however, attributed the donations not to the influence of Teresa Heinz Kerry but to the idea that Kerry “has centrist views and a pro-business history.”

Missouri Rep. Richard Gephardt brought in $3.6 million by the end of the quarter, putting him in the middle of the pack but disappointing some analysts who had expected a stronger showing from the congressional powerhouse. Florida Senator Bob Graham, another late starter, raised just over $1 million. The field’s three other contenders — Ohio Rep. Dennis Kucinich, former Illinois senator Carol Moseley Braun and Reverend Al Sharpton — had not announced any numbers by deadline.

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