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Inside Politics
The Morning Grind / DayAhead

April Fools' and March money madness

By John Mercurio
CNN Political Unit

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• The Candidates: Bush | Kerry
Morning Grind
George W. Bush
John F. Kerry

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Aren't we all glad April Fools' Day is over?

The initial e-mails yesterday weren't so bad -- We knew Sen. Arlen Specter wasn't retiring and that John Kerry's French cousin isn't backing President Bush. The "clarification" e-mails that inevitably followed are what drove us around the bend.

Moving on, mercifully ....

One of the biggest stories this weekend, we decree, will be the Kerry/Bush money chase and the new TV ads that chase has allowed the campaigns to produce. (Come to think of it, April Fools' Day is starting to look pretty good).

Camp Kerry says they've raised more than $40 million during the first three months of '04, a record-breaking haul that brings their total take to roughly $65 million. That's a hefty sum, more than we make in a year. But still a distant cry from the $158.2 million Bush had raised -- by the end of February.

Bush, who raised $26.5 million in January and February, hasn't released March figures, and aides say they don't plan to do so this weekend. Bush/Cheney did raise a total of $11.3 million at fund-raising events headlined by one of the four principals (ticket mates and their wives), Karl Rove or former President George "41" Bush. (Specifically, Bush raised $10 million at seven events, Dick Cheney raised $800,000 at three events, Lynne Cheney raised $75,000 at one event. Rove and former President Bush each raised $250,000 at separate events. Laura Bush headlined no money events in March).

Sources tell the Grind that fund-raising from direct-mail and phones should outpace event draws last month, meaning they're expecting to outpace Kerry's fund-raising by a comfortable margin.

The record through 2000 for the entire primary was the $34 million, raised by Al Gore. Kerry's latest three-month haul more than doubled Howard Dean's record-setting take in the fourth quarter of '03. During the comparable period in '00, Bush raised $11.6 million.

Kerry aides claim that their online fund-raising is also through the roof. They raised $20 million online in 20 days in March alone. They raised $26 million online in just three months, while Bush has raised just $4.2 million online for the entire campaign. On March 4, Camp Kerry raised $2.6 million in just one day online. Dean's best day was $820,000 on June 30, 2003.

More money means more ads

Confident that the cash will continue pouring in, Kerry goes up today with his latest TV ad. The 30-second spot, titled "10 Million Jobs," hits Bush's record on jobs and outsourcing.

"While jobs are leaving our country in record numbers, George Bush says sending jobs overseas 'makes sense' for America," an announcer says. "His top economic advisers say 'moving American jobs to low-cost countries' is a plus for the U.S. John Kerry's proposed a different economic plan that encourages companies to keep jobs here. It's part of a 'detailed economic agenda' to create 10 million jobs."

The 30-second spot will run in 17 states beginning Friday: Maine, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Iowa, New Mexico, Oregon, Wisconsin, Florida, Minnesota, Missouri, New Hampshire, Nevada, West Virginia, Arizona, Arkansas, Washington and Ohio.

Bush/Cheney responded less than two hours later, announcing they'd launch a new ad Saturday that hits Kerry's record on the economy.

"John Kerry's record on the economy? Troubling," an announcer says. "He opposed tax relief for married couples 22 times. Opposed increasing the child tax credit 18 times. Kerry supported higher taxes over 350 times. He even supported increasing taxes on Social Security benefits. And a 50-cent-a-gallon tax hike on gasoline. Now Kerry's plan will raise taxes by at least $900 billion in his first one hundred days."

The spot will run in 18 states and on national cable and was described by Republican strategist Matthew Dowd yesterday as a "moderate buy that will get the message through."

Meanwhile, the Media Fund started running a new ad last night hitting Bush for spending $87 billion in Iraq -- a curious strategy, if only because it highlights Kerry's "I voted for it before I voted against it" comment.

Notably, the ad is almost identical to a TV ad MoveOn ran in December. MoveOn gave the ad to the Media Fund as an in-kind contribution and the Media Fund made a few edits. The Media Fund says its research shows that the message about how $87 billion could have been spent domestically resonates with voters, so it decided to use the MoveOn ad. The MoveOn ad first ran Oct. 15, 2003, for three days in Washington and New York City. It went up again Dec. 4 for two weeks in Florida, Missouri, Nevada, Ohio and West Virginia.

"We could build 10,000 new schools. Or hire almost 2 million new teachers. We could rebuild our electric grid. We could make sure every child has insurance. George Bush is spending 87 billion dollars more in Iraq. But after three years, where's his plan for taking care of America? Shouldn't America be his top priority?"

The Media Fund's ad is only running in a few of the 17 battleground states. The buy is about $2 million and will bring the total the Media Fund has spent this year on ads to $10.1 million.

V.P. tea leaves

In this weekend's edition we travel to North Dakota, where John Edwards is visiting with local Democrats and delivering the keynote address for the state Democratic Party's annual convention. It's the first major address Edwards has made since he withdrew from the presidential campaign March 3. He'll deliver his speech in Fargo on Saturday at noon ET.

People in North Dakota greet everyone with open arms, and Edwards will be no exception. The senator won't be talking about his VP prospects, but others will be.

"A lot of people around the country, and specifically in North Dakota, think John Edwards would make a fine vice president," Vern Thompson, the state party's executive director and spokesman, told the Grind. "I've had a chance to visit with him face to face and he's probably the best speaker in the country right now."

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