Analysis: Dean, Clark look for last hurrah

By MARIE HORRIGAN, UPI Deputy Americas Editor  |  Feb. 27, 2004 at 5:42 PM
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WASHINGTON, Feb. 27 (UPI) -- In separate letters written some days and weeks after dropping their bids for the Democratic presidential nomination, former high-flying candidates Howard Dean and Wesley Clark have called on supporters to provide their campaigns with one last boost -- the money to balance their books.

In an e-mail message late Wednesday Dean asked his supporters to help pay off the campaign's $400,000 debt, while Clark sent a message Thursday asking his supporters to "Please help my campaign one last time."

Just as they have throughout their campaigns, Clark and Dean are betting on the grass-roots movements to help them deal with an age-old campaign reality, retiring debts.

The e-mail entreaties were similar in content and fairly standard, with both former candidates thanking their donors and then urging them to help the candidates so everyone could focus on the fight against George W. Bush.

Dean's $400,000 debt is due to expenses in the last month of campaigning, Dean said, when "we thought we could win key early contests and use the momentum to secure more victories in other states.

"But things did not go as we had hoped, creating a deficit in the financial resources we were counting on. Now we are scrambling to retire this debt quickly. Can you help by making a small contribution today?" he asks in the e-mail message.

"So that I may properly transfer the incredible support, energy and resources of my campaign to the eventual Democratic nominee, I need you, one of my most loyal and generous supporters, to help today," Clark told his supporters in the "Action Alert" e-mailed Thursday.

"Your personal contribution of $50 or $100 right now will help us close the books on my campaign and will allow us to focus our complete attention and resources on the great challenge ahead."

"They were pretty much candidates of the Internet ... they're just taking an old problem and applying a new solution," said Tim Hathaway, president of the eponymous Internet strategy organization The Hathaway Group.

The unknown element, he said, is whether online donors -- who came out in the millions for Dean to help him raise an unprecedented $47 million -- will be as willing as the more traditional mass-mailing and big-money donors to reach into their pockets one last time.

But a definite plus is the cost-efficiency of the Internet, according to Anthony Corrado, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution.

"Traditionally it costs money to engage in some of the debt-reduction activities. ... One of the advantages of having the Internet and access to e-mail (addresses) of individuals who supported you before is that you can make your appeal for funding to alleviate your debt at essentially no cost," he said.

Dean was again ahead of Clark in his use of the Internet, having created a special Web page -- DeanForAmerica.com/debtreduction -- where visitors could chose to give $25, $50, $100, $250, $500, $1,000 or another amount up to the legal limit of $2,000.

Dean headed to Connecticut Thursday night to thank supporters in an event a campaign spokesman told United Press International was not a fundraiser, but in an e-mail message that night Dean again pressed his case for support. "Tonight I am speaking in New Haven, Connecticut, to thank a group of people who worked hard to support our campaign. I am grateful to you for everything you have done to advance our cause. ... As we look to the future, we must be sure to meet the obligations we already had," the message said, directing readers to the debt-reduction Web page.

If Clark and Dean fail to close out their debts, they will join a long list of politicians who have to continue filing Federal Election Commission reports -- Bill Clinton, Al Gore, President Bush, Bill Bradley and Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., to name a few.

Under FEC laws, the candidates can continue fundraising under the auspices of their campaign until all debts and obligations are settled. They also can arrange debt settlement agreements, although they face the possibility of state-level action by contributors who are still owed money.

Hathaway predicts Dean should have an easier time than Clark in pulling in enough money to pay off his debts, in part due to the intensity of support among "Deaniacs" and in part because he intends to continue as an activist in an as-yet undefined manner.

"He's become a regular rabble-rouser, so maybe that's got more appeal," he said.

The ultimate cautionary tale, however, may be that of John Glenn, former astronaut, senator and presidential candidate. His file has remained open since his unsuccessful campaign to win the 1984 Democratic presidential nomination. According to his FEC filings, which he has been sending in for more than 15 years, he still owes $2.6 million.

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