St. Petersburg Times Online: World and Nation

Weather | Sports | Forums | Comics | Classifieds | Calendar | Movies

Bush campaign has spent $50-million

Now that he has spent more than any other previous candidate, Bush has only $20-million. Not to worry, he says, he'll raise more.


© St. Petersburg Times, published February 17, 2000

HILTON HEAD, S.C. -- George W. Bush spends money as spectacularly as he raises it.

The Texas governor had only $20-million left in his campaign account at the end of January out of more than $70-million in contributions, campaign officials confirmed Wednesday.

And Bush is spending money faster now than he initially expected in an effort to rebound from a defeat in New Hampshire and win in South Carolina Saturday.

The $20-million the Texas governor had in the bank before losing New Hampshire Feb. 1 is double the $10-million that Arizona Sen. John McCain is expected to report next week in his campaign account. But it signals that Bush's vast fundraising network is going to have to crank up again to refuel a campaign that has been spending about $3-million a week.

It also raises another concern all too familiar for Republicans.

The $50-million Bush already has spent is more than any other candidate spent during an entire campaign. Four years ago, Bob Dole spent a then-record $42-million and won the nomination but was out of money during the summer months. Meanwhile, the Democratic Party was spending millions to promote President Clinton.

Bush, who is not accepting federal matching money and is not bound by spending limits, told reporters he well recalls Dole's problems. But he and his aides denied he is facing a money crunch.

The governor said he is focused on this week's primary in South Carolina, where the polls indicate the race is a toss-up.

"I haven't quite projected beyond Saturday yet," Bush said. "We've got a strategy in place that is working."

The Texas governor staged upbeat events Wednesday at a posh Hilton Head development, a Boys and Girls club in Beaufort and a rally with GOP women in Aiken.

But off-stage, the Bush campaign was back on its heels.

In addition to questions about fundraising, Bush was surprised by former GOP contender Gary Bauer's endorsement of McCain. While Bauer finished poorly in the New Hampshire primary, the conservative activist is popular among some social conservatives Bush is seeking to court.

All Bush could say Wednesday was that he had not heard of Bauer's decision.

Bush also lost a prominent supporter in California. The state's top elected Republican, Secretary of State Bill Jones, dropped off of Bush's team and endorsed McCain.

"If he wants to be on a winning team," Bush said, "he'd better stay here."

While Bush campaigned in South Carolina, he also was under new attack in Michigan, where the primary is Tuesday. The Sierra Club began airing television ads criticizing the Texas governor's record on the environment in his home state.

Of the more than $70-million raised by Bush, more than $4-million came from Florida through the fundraising network established by his brother, Gov. Jeb Bush.

While no new Florida fundraisers have been scheduled, a March event in Palm Beach has been discussed.

Bush and his aides spent much of Wednesday attempting to explain how they spent $50-million before the Feb. 1 New Hampshire primary -- which Bush lost to McCain by 19 points.

The campaign is airing TV ads in about a dozen states, and Bush said a lot of TV air time has been prepaid. "We've got a plan in place that is going to enable us to stay in the race for the long run," he said. "We are on a plan."

That plan changed after the big loss in New Hampshire.

Karen Hughes, the campaign's communications director, said Bush always had two spending plans: one if he won the nation's first primary, and a contingency plan calling for increased spending if he lost New Hampshire.

She said the campaign has switched to the latter plan and is on track with it. Bush has increased his television time in South Carolina, spending more than $3.1-million.

"We are spending more money than we would have had we won New Hampshire, but we are on track on our contingency budget," Hughes said.

The $20-million left in the campaign account at the end of January will be reflected in federal campaign reports to be filed next week, she said. Hughes would not say how much additional money Bush plans to raise.

Raising the additional money will be tougher for the Texas governor, because thousands of supporters already have given the maximum $1,000. He also has not used the Internet to raise money as effectively as McCain.

While McCain has raised nearly $3-million from Internet contributors since the New Hampshire primary, Bush's total from the Internet during the entire campaign is less than $600,000. Instead, the Texas governor has relied on traditional fundraising techniques, such as direct-mail solicitations.

Republican National Committee finance chairman Mel Sembler, a St. Petersburg area developer, discounted reports that some Bush fundraisers are unhappy with the Texas governor's spending.

"I have yet to hear a complaint from anybody that he has misspent his money," Sembler, who is officially neutral, said Wednesday. "They have got enough money to run a national campaign, but the free media is giving McCain a hell of a push."

© Copyright, St. Petersburg Times. All rights reserved.