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Last Updated: Wednesday, 18 June, 2003, 15:09 GMT 16:09 UK
Bush begins fundraising drive
By Steve Kingstone
BBC News Washington correspondent

If Bill Clinton was the consummate campaigner, George Bush is the final word in campaign fundraising.

President Bush
Bush is expected to break fundraising records

And financially, next year's election is already looking like a David versus Goliath affair, according to Candice Nelson of American University.

"George Bush raised in 2000 more than any presidential candidate has raised. And the expectation is that he will double that in this election, to $200 million. The Democrats will be lucky to raise $20 million," she says.

The re-election bid starts Tuesday night at the Washington Hilton, in a joint appearance with Vice-President Dick Cheney.

Mr Bush will arrive late, speak for maybe 15 minutes, then leave early - with perhaps $2 million raised for the campaign.

Rich Galen, a Republican Party strategist on the guest list, says that "the event in DC will be nothing more than a reception, probably with wine, probably with no hard liquor - and if there's food it will be in the order of chips and salsa".

To enjoy those delights guests must pay $2,000 per head, which also happens to be the maximum amount any individual can give to the campaign.

Bush's Rangers

Beyond that, Mr Bush has created an elite tier of special fundraisers, known as the Pioneers and Rangers.

To win such a badge of honour, his supporters must convince 50 other people to donate $2,000 each for a total of $100,000.

It is clever politics, according to Derek Willis of the Centre for Public Integrity, an investigative think-tank.

"It not only feeds the ego of donors but it also creates instant competition without you having to do much. If you say 'here's a level to shoot for', that creates competition," he says.

Democrats lag behind

Meanwhile, the nine Democratic contenders for president are wooing voters in a low-key low-budget setting, such as fish-fry last month in South Carolina. Between them, all the Democratic candidates combined have raised $26m during the first three months of the year.

President Bush will raise more than that during the next two weeks.

Senator John Edwards is one of the Democratic frontrunners.

Despite the financial mismatch, he is confident of victory . "If Democrats focus on the things people wake up in the morning worrying about - education, healthcare, pensions - yes, we can beat George Bush," he told a recent election rally.

Reform challenges

With his pioneers and rangers, many of them former business associates, President Bush has a broad range of individuals prepared to raise funds on his behalf.

By contrast, the Democrats have traditionally relied on large-scale funding from American trade unions.

But under new rules, such 'soft money' as it is known, will be tightly regulated.

That may hurt the Democrats, according to Mr Willis "In the past, labour unions were able to give millions of dollars to the Democratic Party. They can't do that anymore. And the Party hasn't kept up recruitment efforts to win wealthy individual donors."

White House advantage

With his opponents hitting the phones to woo new donors, Mr Bush can sit back and enjoy his biggest advantage - being the incumbent at the White House.

Some critics have accused him of using and abusing the office of the presidency to seek re-election, a charge denied by Rich Galen.

"I reject the notion of 'abused'. He's president wherever he goes. It's physically impossible for him to pretend he's not president - even for a millisecond. There's no way around that."

Since the World War II, only two elected presidents have tried and failed to secure a second term.

Democrats might take comfort from the fact that one of them was George Bush senior (the other was Jimmy Carter).

But privately, some in the party may be resigned to defeat, and already looking to 2008.

George W Bush's electoral strategy
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Battleground turns to economy
22 Apr 03  |  Americas
Analysis: Buying an election
07 Nov 02  |  Americas

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