Guess What Else The Democrats Don't Have Yet: Money

Little Rock's business elite turned out for cordials and cake on Aug. 30 just to meet fund-raiser extraordinaire Robert A. Farmer. He had quit as Democratic National Committee treasurer to help Arkansas Governor Bill Clinton raise money for his undeclared run at the 1992 Democratic Presidential nomination. Arkansans were incredulous. "A major national fund-raiser. Here. To help Clinton," gushed one.

Days later and more than a thousand miles away, DNC Chairman Ronald H. Brown stopped by the Manhattan offices of Red Apple Cos. President John Catsimatidis. Why hadn't the head of the supermarket chain, who contributed $100,000 to the party and raised $1 million for Michael S. Dukakis in 1988, been giving this year, Brown asked. Patting his back pocket, Catsimatidis said he'd like to help, but there's a recession on, and people are watching their money. Besides, he asked, "who's carrying the football? I want to see the guy who's carrying the football."

As Democrats gear up for the 1992 Presidential campaign, the traditional big givers are holding back. With President Bush's reelection looking solid and potential givers worried more about their recession-hit finances than the national campaign, the going is tough. Even Farmer, who got individuals to cough up $22 million for Dukakis in 1987-88, has lowered his sights. "This is going to be a $10 million to $15 million Presidential race, not a $30 million race like in 1988," he says.

HOLLYWOOD FACTOR. Unfortunately for the Democrats, Bush can raise all the money he can spend as soon as he gives his fund-raisers the word. That reality has sent the handful of potential Democratic candidates scrambling. Senator Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) is focusing on small contributions from labor, women's, farm, and disabled groups. To attract bigger bucks, he is wooing Terry McAuliffe, chief fund-raiser for House Majority Leader Richard A. Gephardt's 1988 Presidential bid.

Senator Bob Kerrey (D-Neb.) is eyeing Hollywood, which in recent years has become the mother lode of Democratic contributions. Kerrey has persuaded Robert L. Burkett, an associate of producer Ted Field, to act as his chief fund-raiser if he runs. Field, along with superagent Michael Ovitz and producer Norman Lear, has already raised more than $100,000 for Kerrey. "It's a significant coup for Kerrey," says Maryland State Democratic Chairman Nathan Landow, a prominent fund-raiser himself. "Even with no name recognition and no national base for money, he'll be able to raise money fast."

SOUTHERN COMFORT. Speed will be important. By this time in 1987, Dukakis and Gephardt had raised millions. With the `92 race just beginning, "there is a pool of money out there waiting for an effective campaign," says McAuliffe. That means that funds should roll in for any candidate who can make a strong showing in the early primaries. The federal government matches individual contributions dollar-for-dollar during the primaries. Public funding covers most of the cost of the general election campaign.

Democratic hopefuls for lesser races don't share the woes of their more ambitious brethren. For example, most of the half-dozen Southern Democratic senators facing tough reelection battles have $1 million or more on hand. With limited competition from Presidential aspirants, senators have had ready access to corporate and labor political action committees.

But the Presidency is what really counts. Under the bestof circumstances, Democrats can't raise money like the GOP,so fund-raising this year is just one more nightmare for a party that can't seem to find 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. with a road map.

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