The Gop Race: So Many Hopefuls Chasing So Much Money

Georgette Mosbacher, cosmetics entrepreneur and blue-chip Republican fund-raiser, is always in demand on the social circuit. But lately her phone has been ringing off the hook as Presidential wannabes in an increasingly crowded field come courting. Mosbacher says she'll pick a candidate soon and start dialing for dollars, but, she frets, "I know all these people. This is a very difficult call."

Mosbacher isn't the only top GOP giver trying to decide which candidate to support in 2000. Will it be front-runner George W. Bush? Although still weighing a bid, the Texas governor is urging key fund-raisers to stay uncommitted just a bit longer. Or will it be former American Red Cross chief Elizabeth Dole, who is testing the waters in New Hampshire? Also on Mosbacher's A-list: Arizona Senator John McCain, whose maverick campaign is attracting a surprising number of CEOs.

Although the Iowa caucuses are still a year off, GOP hopefuls are already blitzing Corporate America. Former Vice-President Dan Quayle and former Education Secretary Lamar Alexander may not win Mosbacher's heart, but they are luring other execs. With individual donations limited to $1,000 per candidate, the game is to attract high-profile names who use their connections to fill coffers.

FORBES FACTOR. A front-loaded primary schedule intensifies the money rush. Many states have moved primaries and caucuses up to boost their voice in the selection process. Political pros predict that the nominee may emerge by the mega-primaries on Super Tuesday, Mar. 7, 2000. GOP lobbyist Tom C. Korologos says party aspirants "realize that a year from today they gotta have $20 million in the bank."

Guess what? That may not be enough. The Capitalist Tool himself, publishing magnate Steve Forbes, may forgo federal matching funds again to avoid spending limits. If Bush figures that Forbes will inundate Iowa and nuke New Hampshire with TV ads, George W. may also pass on matching funds. According to one fund-raiser close to Bush, that could mean he would have to raise a record $40 million--$100,000 a day.

So where's the early cash coming from? Bush is lining up support through Texas oilman Donald L. Evans, who can help tap the home-state money gusher. And Bush has other advantages: his Dad's Establishment ties and brother Jeb, the newly elected governor of Florida, who has pipelines to wealthy retirees and developers.

Investment banker Henry R. Kravis, New York fund manager Lewis M. Eisenberg, and oil exec John A. Moran are trekking to Austin on Feb. 24 to size up Bush. An endorsement may follow. "Everybody perceives that George is the winner, and they're lining up," says GOP graybeard Frederic V. Malek. "McCain, Dole, Quayle, and others have to do some heavy trolling for support."

And they know it. McCain starts with $2 million left over from his '98 Senate race. Goldman, Sachs & Co. Chairman Henry M. Paulson Jr. and co-CEO John A. Thain will build on that at a Mar. 25 dinner in Manhattan. A week later, McCain will speak at a Chicago event hosted by Ameritech CEO Richard C. Notebaert, Hyatt Hotels & Resorts Chairman Thomas J. Pritzker, and AIG Chairman Maurice R. Greenberg.

Quayle, who is expected to have money woes despite his Veep credentials, also has his business pals. On Feb. 25, USFilter CEO Richard J. Heckmann hopes to collect $200,000 at an event at his Rancho Mirage (Calif.) home. Quayle sits on the boards of USFilter and American Standard Cos., whose CEO, Emmanuel A. Kampouris, also is a booster.

With so many Republicans lining up for the race--House Budget Committee Chairman John R. Kasich (R-Ohio) may announce soon, and New York Governor George Pataki still shows signs of interest--Big Business execs are going to feel the pinch earlier and harder than ever.

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