Money burns, Gore returns
By John Mercurio and Steve Turnham
CNN Political Unit
Howard Dean's camp is hoping a visit from former Vice President Al Gore will divert attention away from its recent financial woes.
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CNN's Candy Crowely on the debate In South Carolina.
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GREENVILLE, South Carolina (CNN) -- There's nothing older than yesterday's news (or more boring than last night's debate), except perhaps last year's fund-raising reports. Those reports, due out this weekend, will provide an already dated glimpse of an '04 Dem primary that, like Howard Dean's war chest, has turned upside down since the December 31 deadline.
But we'll scour the Federal Election Commission reports anyway, since we're as curious as you are to learn how the former front-runner managed to fritter away almost $40 million before one ballot was punched.
A small, unscientific survey the Grind conducted in last night's post-debate spin room yielded few answers. "I could spend it in New Hampshire, I guess, at all those shopping outlets," offered one Dem operative. "But definitely not in Iowa, unless I bought a lot of sweaters with puppy dogs and snowmen on them."
Dean is hoping to move beyond the money/staff stories that have dominated the past 48 hours with a weekend visit from Al Gore, campaign sources said. Aides were hammering out the when-and-where last night, but it was clear they believed a day with Gore, notably absent from New Hampshire, would play better than another day of "Dean in disarray" headlines.
New nod for Kerry
Meanwhile, facing a hugely expensive series of contests over the next eight days, John Kerry's money men meet in New York this weekend to plot how to cash in on the front-runner's early strength. That strength gets a little stronger today, campaign sources tell the Grind, when Kerry picks up the endorsement of another major labor union -- Communication Workers of America.
The union will announce its support during a 2 p.m. ET conference call. Aides are billing it as an endorsement of Kerry's jobs/economy plans.
Kerry aides also confirmed that the senator will receive the endorsement of Florida Rep. Kendrick Meek, an African American, who is expected to campaign with Kerry in South Carolina before Tuesday's primary.
The Kerry campaign says national finance chairman Lou Susman is expanding the finance committee to handle an influx of money. Kerry has raised $500,000 on the Internet alone since New Hampshire (that's in addition to the $1 million his campaign raised on the Web since Iowa).
Dean, whose campaign is in such bad financial shape that he's suspending his staff's pay just as the post-New Hampshire blues set in, claims to have raised more than $1 million himself online.
Kerry's backers aren't buying it. "Dean could be broke on February 4," said one of Kerry's top Capitol Hill allies. At which point, "all kinds of good things will start to happen."
We'll know more about the money matchup Saturday, when the numbers come out -- and they'll show how much cash the candidates had on hand January 1 as well as the definitive amount raised.
Bush rakes it in
President Bush, meanwhile, is raising it hand over fist. Aides said his fund-raiser Thursday night in Greenwich, Connecticut, brought in a cool $1.1 million from 750 supporters.
Never satisfied, Bush continues to try to raise money from some intriguing sources.
CNN's Robert Yoon reports that Michigan Rep. John Dingell, who was very much a Democrat last time we checked, got a fund-raising letter with a very nice photo of George and Laura Bush that thanked him for his "early commitment and dedication as a charter member of the campaign in Virginia."
"Grassroots leaders like you are the key to building a winning team. Best wishes, Laura Bush and George Bush," the letter read.
Dingell's supposed support of Bush's campaign (no way, his office called the Grind to say) would be even more shocking if it were real, since Michigan Dem sources say he's trying to lead the state's congressional delegation toward a unified endorsement of one of the '04 Dems.
And speaking of Michigan, we hear that Gov. Jennifer Granholm, everyone's favorite Canadian choice for vice president, is set to endorse Kerry -- although a top Granholm aide insisted last night that she does not plan to do so today.