Bush's '04 Campaign Quietly Being Planned
Advisers See Raising Up to $250 Million
fair use for discussion purposes...
By Mike Allen and Dan Balz
Washington Post Staff Writers
Monday, March 3, 2003; Page A01
President Bush has postponed his reelection campaign until after a war with Iraq, but White House and Republican Party strategists have begun planning
for a contest in which they envision raising as much as $250 million to wage a battle designed to break the political stalemate of the 1990s and make
the GOP the country's majority party.
Bush has told advisers that he will neither discuss with them nor authorize them to begin any formal activity for a 2004 campaign until the
confrontation with Iraq has been resolved. But he has given them his blessing to begin discussions and planning for such a campaign.
"We've got a green light to think about it, plan about it, but a red light on doing anything," said one of the advisers. He said the president has
told his team, in essence, "Go figure it out, get ready to talk to me about it, but not now."
Fewer than 10 people, under the direction of White House senior adviser Karl Rove, architect of the party's 2002 midterm victories, are mapping the
closely held strategy. In addition, about two dozen Republicans have agreed to recruit new members for Bush's enormous fundraising network, according
The discussions include campaign personnel assignments, the structure of media and polling operations, preliminary assessments of an electoral map
strategy and, with help from the Republican National Committee, intensive opposition research on the large field of Democratic presidential
One early decision was to increase the price of admission for the Pioneers, Bush's premier fundraisers who, in 2000, raised $100,000 each for the
campaign. The nation's new campaign finance law doubles the ceiling for individual contributions in the primary season, to $2,000. In light of that,
the new threshold for Pioneers -- all of whom get prestige and bragging rights, while a few get administration appointments -- will grow to $200,000
or possibly $250,000.
Some Bush strategists have discussed using direct mail to raise a substantial amount of money from big donors, and the campaign would start with a
list of about 69,000 individuals who contributed the maximum to Bush in 2000. That approach would not mean eliminating all fundraising galas featuring
the president -- which some longtime donors find to be old hat -- but would be a low-key way to raise money in large chunks.
"Frankly, I think many big donors would favor that," said a Republican strategist close to the White House.
In 2000, the Bush campaign broke all previous records by raising about $100 million. GOP strategists say Bush advisers are talking about raising $200
million to $225 million, but they said the upper limit might hit $250 million. Asked whether there was a dollar amount beyond which it would appear
unseemly for the campaign to keep raising money, one Bush adviser said, "I guess you could make that case. I'm not certain what that point is." He
added that he doubted the reelection committee could raise that much, in any case.
This money would be spent for campaign activities in 2003 until the Republican National Convention in August 2004. The nominees of both parties
receive public funds for the general election.
Some campaign planners had discussed launching fundraising efforts this month, which was when Bush began raising money in 1999. But officials decided
it would appear unseemly to start raising money when U.S. troops might be at war in the Persian Gulf. Similar concerns prompted the White House to
cancel Bush's planned trips to New Hampshire and Iowa shortly after his State of the Union address in January.
The delays in assembling the reelection campaign's mechanical pieces have caused some frustration among GOP strategists, but White House officials
doubt the late start will prove a genuine handicap. Bush should be able to raise his money quickly, they said, and, given the unsettled international
environment, they anticipate a campaign that will be slower to take shape than recent campaigns.
White House and GOP officials remain concerned about the sluggish economy, which contributed to the defeat of Bush's father in 1992. They differ,
however, with strategists for some Democratic presidential candidates who believe that once a possible war with Iraq is over, economic and domestic
concerns will dominate the 2004 campaign. Top Bush advisers say that even if Iraq is settled quickly, concerns about international terrorism will
compete with anxiety about the economy, much as they did in 2002.
"Iraq is one chapter in the war on terrorism, as Afghanistan was one chapter in a war against terrorism," said a senior Bush adviser.
The unpredictability of war and the economy make it difficult to project how popular the president will be once the campaign begins in earnest. White
House officials foresee the possibility of a substantial victory, but they are planning for a race that could be highly competitive.
They assume that, despite the GOP victories in November, the country remains narrowly divided and politically polarized. Because of those partisan
divisions, Bush advisers doubt that even a highly popular president can win the kind of landslide reelection that President Ronald Reagan claimed in
1984. "This is going to be '00 rather than '84," said one Bush adviser.
Bush strategists said the nation's partisan divide will make it difficult to attract many voters calling themselves Democrats, as Reagan was able to
do, and said that factor alone could put a ceiling on Bush's vote in the range of 54 percent. That might be enough, they hope, to leverage a broader
GOP victory in congressional, gubernatorial and legislative races, along the lines of what happened last fall, which they believe will give the GOP
dominance for years to come.
"I think one party is on the verge of gaining dominance, and I think the next couple of elections will have a big deal to say about that," said one
prominent Bush adviser. "We can't remain at equilibrium forever."
There is little consensus among those plotting Bush's likely campaign about who would make the strongest challenger, despite some suggestions that
the White House most fears Sen. John Edwards (D-N.C.). Although some see him as a potentially strong candidate, others say he has been overrated.
One senior Republican official has said privately that Bush strategists believe Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman (D-Conn.) could present a challenge in a
general election because of his centrist views, but they question whether he can win his party's nomination. Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.) has
impressed some GOP strategists with his early moves, but they wonder whether he can prove attractive to voters through a long campaign and whether he
can escape the stigma of being a liberal from Massachusetts.
Others say Rep. Richard A. Gephardt (D-Mo.) begins with many questions to answer but may be the most resilient candidate over time. Former Vermont
governor Howard Dean's ability to fire up Democratic activists has impressed some GOP strategists, but they say his liberal ideology would be a
handicap in a general election.
"It's not healthy" to handicap the Democratic race, said one top Bush adviser. "The whole [nominating] process tends to raise somebody up, and
whoever it's going to be is going to be competitive and strong."
The Bush campaign sees Sen. Bob Graham (D) as a serious candidate from the key battleground state of Florida, but does not know what kind of national
candidate he will make. They regard the other Democratic candidates -- Rep. Dennis J. Kucinich (Ohio), Carol Moseley-Braun and Al Sharpton -- as niche
candidates but not genuinely competitive for the nomination.
Bush's last campaign, when he was Texas governor, was headquartered in Austin. The 2004 campaign will be based in the Washington area to make it
easier for Bush and White House officials to interact with the campaign's leaders.
In November, Bush tried to settle an issue that plagued his father's reelection campaign by declaring he will retain Vice President Cheney as his
running mate. An official close to Cheney reaffirmed that he will remain on the ticket, "barring the intervention of health or God."
Rove and communications director Dan Bartlett will remain at the White House throughout the campaign, sources said, but others will shift to the
reelection committee. Months ago, White House political director Ken Mehlman was designated as the reelection campaign manager. One GOP strategist
said he is scheduled to shift to the committee in the "mid to late second quarter" of this year, although the timing is subject to change because of
Commerce Secretary Donald L. Evans, Bush's close friend of 30 years, was chairman of the last campaign. This time, he will remain in the Cabinet as a
sounding board for the president, sources said. Jack Oliver, who created the Pioneers and now is deputy chairman of the Republican National Committee,
has agreed to serve again as mastermind of fundraising but also will have broader responsibilities, sources said.
Other top officials from the 2000 campaign are expected to play significant roles again. Former White House counselor Karen P. Hughes will continue to
serve as a top adviser on Bush's message and will travel with the president in the campaign's final months.
Mark McKinnon, who led the operation that made Bush's television commercials in 2000, will play a similar role next year, but with an expanded team
including media consultants with experience in hard-fought 2002 campaigns. RNC senior adviser Matthew Dowd will again oversee polling and targeting.
The campaign communications team has not been determined, but Bush aides said the most visible faces will include a woman.
Preliminarily, the Bush team sees an opportunity to expand the president's slender electoral majority by targeting several states that were narrowly
won by Al Gore in 2000. They include Iowa, Minnesota, New Mexico and Oregon.
The Bush team also is paying close attention to several states narrowly won by the president, including Florida, Ohio, Kentucky, West Virginia and
Arkansas. The White House also is watching New Hampshire, which has suffered from the economic slowdown. Aides do not want the economy there to turn
into a political problem for the president, as it was for his father in 1992.