Presidential candidates rush to fatten coffers

With much at stake, key deadline for campaign-finance data looms.

WATCHUNG, N.J. - From an elegant suburban living room, with Yogi Berra at his side, Rudy Giuliani spent a half-hour Wednesday night talking via Webcast about the issues with thousands of supporters at house parties throughout the country.

Then, before it ended, Giuliani's national finance chair addressed the real business at hand.

"I'd be shameless enough to ask you: Pass the hat one more time," Roy Bailey said. "Dig a little deeper. Go online. Let's add to the kitty."

And he reminded the party organizers in the 50 states to be sure to send the money and supporting documents to headquarters overnight.

What the Republican front-runner and his aides were doing was typical candidate behavior this week - with the latest campaign-finance filing deadline looming.

At the end of every quarter, candidates have to make financial reports to the Federal Election Commission. Along with the polls, these reports are the most tangible indicators of political strength at this stage.

So a dollar raised by the Sept. 30 deadline has more value, in terms of perception, than one raised Oct. 15. Hence the push.

New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, who took a break from the fund-raising frenzy to join his fellow Democratic candidates in a debate Wednesday night in New Hampshire, was back in the act yesterday, making a quick stop in Philadelphia for a luncheon with donors at a Center City hotel.

"It's very crazy," Richardson said in an interview. "This is a very tough quarter for all of us, not just for me.

"You've tapped out some of your main donors. With family vacations in July and August, you have to do all the work in September. And for candidates like me who don't have fund-raising machines, I personally have to go to all the events."

In recent days, the candidates' schedules have been heavy with events like these:

After a week of two-a-day fund-raisers in California, Republican Mitt Romney is to be in Salt Lake City today for one of the 40 or so "Rallies for Romney" scheduled across the country this week.

No, a Rally for Romney is not a rally in the traditional sense. Rather, it's a gathering of volunteers making dozens upon dozens of fund-raising phone calls.

John McCain has been seeking money in Texas, New York, Ohio and New Hampshire. Fred Thompson is in the midst of a five-city fund-raising tour through his native Tennessee.

Giuliani held a fund-raiser last week in London and one this week, via video-conferencing, with Americans living in Kazakhstan.

On the Democratic side, Barack Obama has been holding numerous cash-generating events, starting with a big-ticket (up to $2,300) gala at New York's New Amsterdam Theater on Monday night and a small-ticket ($23) event Tuesday in Portland, Maine.

Hillary Rodham Clinton's campaign is trying to encourage online donors by conducting a drawing in which the winner gets to "sit down with Bill Clinton and watch Hillary debate." The deadline for entering, not surprisingly, is the end of the month.

John Edwards' campaign wants to raise $1 million over the Internet in the final 10 days of September. In a fund-raising e-mail, an Edwards aide noted that $100 buys 50 yard signs for Nevada while $500 pays for two commercials during the TV news in Laconia, N.H.

Yesterday, Edwards changed direction by announcing he will accept public campaign financing, which will provide an infusion of cash but also include some spending limits.

Richardson has a $1 million Web-based drive.

The financial reports also will help answer several questions about the campaign.

Is Fred Thompson's candidacy generating the kind of money that will allow him to convert his second-place showing in the national polls into an effective campaign in the early states?

Is McCain's effort to cast himself as the foremost defender of the current strategy in Iraq - which has given him a more distinct political message and some movement in the polls - producing enough cash to allow his stripped-down campaign to keep functioning?

"We'll have enough money to compete," McCain said on MSNBC.

Then there's the Democratic competition between Clinton and Obama.

The Illinois senator's early fund-raising prowess was a key element in his being considered a serious challenger to Clinton. But Clinton has widened her lead in the polls, and politicians will be looking for any evidence of weakness in the Obama camp.

"Both campaigns are going to have more than enough resources to do what they have to do," said Philadelphia attorney Mark Aronchick, a member of the national leadership board of the Clinton campaign. "More interesting is how they're spending their money and what bang they get for their bucks."

Edwards' report will come under scrutiny for signs of whether donors are taking him more seriously or less seriously as a factor in the race.

In the reports filed earlier this year, the Democratic candidates as a group were outraising the Republicans by a substantial amount, an indication that Democratic donors were feeling more enthusiastic about their party's prospects than were Republicans.

Contact senior writer Larry Eichel at 215-854-2415 or