The GOP's Top Candidates

Although there are officially nine candidates seeking the Republican nomination for President, only two — possibly three — have a chance at actually emerging triumphant at the ’08 national convention in Minneapolis. 

In the wake of the disclosure of how much money some of the presidential candidates have raised (the filing of all the candidates is not yet finalized), that’s the opinion of one of the most renowned of fund-raisers for GOP presidential hopefuls.  What makes the opinion of Frederick M. Bush more significant is that the Washington DC businessman and former ambassador, one of the top fund-raisers for Gerald Ford in the 1976 and George H.W. Bush (no relation) in the 1980 and ’88 campaigns, is that he has no dog in the current Republican fight. 

Thus, publicly neutral, Bush can call the nomination race as he sees it.  In his opinion, with the so-called “first primary” (the race for fund-raising dollars), “Rudy Giuliani and Mitt Romney are very strong, and John McCain could become competitive, although he is trailing and needs an infusion of cash.”  As for Fred Thompson, Bush said “If he can only come up with $8 million [the figure Thompson’s presidential campaign filed with the Federal Election Commission yesterday] after all that time he’s had to organize, I don’t see him as competitive.”

Does Bush consider the other five candidates as having any chance of breaking out of the pack and becoming formidable?  “No, I don’t,” he told me.  “They are there, and that’s it.  It’s not realistic to see any of them as having a chance.” 

Although the filing reports are incomplete, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney raised more than $10 million from donors and lent the campaign more than $6 million from his own exchequer.  According to Fred Bush, “He’s running out of prospects so he’s now looking for needles in a haystack in terms of new contributors.  This is about what I expected [for Romney].”

Neither McCain nor Giuliani has filed their statements of what they raised yet, but the former New York mayor told the New York Times he thought he would “do as well as the other Republicans — maybe we will do better than some.”  The Times also cited a Republican familiar with McCain’s campaign finances as saying the Arizona senator “raised more than $5 million.”

“Senator McCain had high over head,” noted Bush, “and spent a boat-load early on.  He needs an infusion of cash and that means he needs an early win.”

Regarding Fred Thompson’s $8 million figure, Bush said: “It’s not so great.  Such huge expectations have been raised that it should be a larger amount.”

As for the figures filed by Democratic hopefuls, Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) raised more than $20 million over the summer, or twice as much as Romney.  Bush pointed to the fact that “there are a large number of donors who aren’t even close to giving the maximum under the law, so he has potential to raise a lot more.”

Bush recalled his days raising money for Gerald Ford in ‘76 — “The first year in which we operated under the limits [$1000 per person at the time time] and had federal matching funds,.  Nobody imagined not taking it (Today, all of the major candidates except McCain have passed on federal matching funds, which permits them to raise unlimited amounts).

Bush also recalled how the Ford campaign began raising its money for the nomination battle with Ronald Reagan in September 1975 and today “the candidates started immediately after the last [midterm] election.”

“If someone could have predicted the amount of money being raised today,” Bush told me, “they would have said ‘Wow!’ in 1976.  But overall, if the major candidates wind up spending $1 billion in ’08, that’s about the cost of one nuclear aircraft carrier.  Overall, I like the system.”