<!--:es-->Record spending to  power 2008 White House Race<!--:-->

Record spending to power 2008 White House Race

WASHINGTON – The 2008 White House race is almost certain to carry a record price tag, putting a premium on fund-raising skills and driving the weakest candidates from the field more quickly than ever, analysts said.

The early activity in both parties, with 10 contenders in the race and more on the way, has been fueled in part by the need for a quick start on raising the tens of millions of dollars required of a top-tier contender, they said.

Some predict top candidates could raise $100 million this year and ultimately surpass President George W. Bush and Democrat John Kerry, who raised $292 million and $254 million, respectively, in the last nominating cycle.

“The 2008 race will be the most expensive presidential election in American history,” said Michael Toner, a commissioner at the Federal Election Commission who predicts top contenders will need to raise more than $50 million by the end of June.

“One of the biggest challenges for candidates this year will be to show they are in the financial game, and the cost of entry to that game is going to be very, very high,” he said.

The ease of raising money on the Internet and an increase in individual donor limits under a 5-year-old federal law that revamped campaign financing has helped pump up political fund-raising totals.

While raising cash has long been a measure of a presidential contender’s viability, the likely candidacies of proven stars like Democratic Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton and Republican Sen. John McCain (news, bio, voting record) could dominate the race and put early pressure on financial laggards to drop out.

Limits on individual contributions during the primaries to $2,200 or $2,300 per person — the figure will be set in the coming weeks — intensify the competition for donors.

“With the donor limits, that means you have to find lots of people,” said Democratic consultant Doug Schoen. “I don’t see where some people get the money. The pool of donors is not unlimited and doesn’t expand exponentially.”

The 2008 candidates have turned quickly to raising money. A private strategy memo for former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, obtained by the New York Daily News, laid out a plan to raise $100 million this year for his possible Republican presidential bid.

Republican contender Mitt Romney, the former governor of Massachusetts, raised more than $6.5 million on Monday with a phone marathon in Boston, where about 400 supporters made 15,000 calls to solicit donations. “We recognize there is a fund-raising primary and so do our supporters,” said Romney spokesman Kevin Madden, adding the money raised would not only fund the campaign but also offer a tangible sign of Romney’s viability.

“It sends a big message about how serious we are,” he said. “If we can do the fund-raising side of things, we’ll show we can also perfect the field operations and grass-roots operations that are required for victory.”

While the high cost of U.S. political campaigns has long sparked criticism, various proposals to reinvigorate public campaign financing have languished in Congress.

Like Bush and Kerry in 2004, top contenders in the 2008 primaries are expected to opt out of the public financing system and the accompanying spending caps. For the first time, the nominees also might opt out of the system in the general election, ensuring a high-dollar race from beginning to end. Critics say the high campaign price tag reduces the influence of small donors and weeds out grass-roots candidates who rely on contributions of less than $200.

Running for president takes “ungodly” amounts of money, said Gary Kalman, an advocate with the U.S. Public Interest Research Group. “You winnow out the field too early before people have a chance to see who they like and hear their message,” he said.