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Bush Still Well Ahead in the Money Race

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Despite recent bumps he has hit on the campaign trail, Texas Gov. George W. Bush still outpaced all other presidential candidates in 1999’s final months in the crucial race for political donations.

Indeed, Bush’s continuing success on the money front came even as his fund-raising machine scaled back.

The Bush campaign announced Thursday that he raised more than $10 million from October through December. That’s roughly $4 million more than was raised during the same period by Sen. John McCain of Arizona, Bush’s main rival for the GOP nomination. Bush’s total also is $2 million more than that reported by the top Democratic fund-raiser for the quarter, former Sen. Bill Bradley of New Jersey.

For the year, Bush estimates he has raised $67 million, an unprecedented figure in the annals of presidential politics.

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President Clinton, no fund-raising slouch himself, had raised $25.8 million at this point in his reelection campaign four years ago. And Clinton’s eventual Republican opponent, Bob Dole, had raised $24.6 million.

Bush’s total not only far surpasses contributions to his Republican rivals, it is also more than the combined $55 million garnered by this year’s two Democratic presidential contenders, Bradley and Vice President Al Gore. (Bradley has reported raising about $27 million for the year, Gore $28 million.)

“It’s incomparable to anything we’ve experienced before,” said Sheila Krumholz, research director for the Center for Responsive Politics in Washington, which tracks political fund-raising.

Bush actually cut back on fund-raising appearances during the fourth quarter, attending 18 such events, compared with 41 during the previous three months, according to his campaign.

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His continued fund-raising prowess belied the rough patches his candidacy encountered in the last three months. He was the target of a steady stream of jokes after failing an interviewer’s pop quiz on international leaders. After finally agreeing to join in debates with his GOP rivals, his stilted performances raised doubts about his capability to serve as president.

McCain has been the clearest beneficiary of Bush’s problems, especially in New Hampshire, which hosts the first presidential primary on Feb. 1. McCain’s strategy envisions a New Hampshire victory serving as a springboard to primary wins in bigger states, such as California.

But Thursday’s financial estimates from the Bush camp underscore the challenge McCain faces: The Texas governor expects to have about $31.4 million on hand for advertising and other expenses in the opening months of the primary season.

McCain, by contrast, estimates having $1.5 million left in the bank after gathering about $15 million during the year for his presidential campaign. He also anticipates receiving $6.2 million in federal matching funds to aid his campaign.

The government matches the first $250 of each individual contribution for presidential candidates who agree to limits on campaign spending in the primary races. Bush earlier this year decided to forgo accepting federal funds, and thus he can spend as much as he wants in the primaries.

Another Republican presidential candidate, social activist Gary Bauer, reported raising $1.7 million in the fourth quarter, giving him total contributions for the year of about $7 million. Bauer expects an additional $4.4 million in federal funds.

Figures were not available as of late Thursday for the three other GOP candidates: publisher Steve Forbes, Sen. Orrin G. Hatch of Utah and former diplomat Alan Keyes.

Forbes, whose campaign is largely self-financed, did release personal tax information Thursday. It showed that he earned nearly $2.3 million and made $240,000 on investments in 1998, and paid $664,000 in federal taxes. The 15% flat tax proposal that is the cornerstone of Forbes’ candidacy would have significantly reduced his tax bill.

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He also released a letter from his physician, Keith D. Linder at the Mayo Clinic, that said the 52-year-old Forbes has taken a cholesterol-lowering drug for several years but is otherwise in “excellent health.”


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