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Fund raisers shift to high gear in key first quarter

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Even though the presidential candidates have just received millions of dollars in federal matching funds, their chief money raisers are striving to bring in more cash. The first three months of this year are a crucial spending time. A strong showing in the primaries can keep the funds flowing in - but it takes full coffers to get there. The campaign staff looks at Super Tuesday, on March 8, as the financial black hole of '88: The candidates have to stretch campaign dollars to buy news-media time in 20 states.

The strategy of most campaigns is to ``raise as much as we can as soon as we can,'' says Fred Stern, press spokesman for Pierre S. (Pete) du Pont IV.

``It's going to get tougher,'' says Kristin Demong, finance director for Gov. Michael Dukakis. ``This is a wild-card quarter.'' The wild card is how well each campaign does in the primaries. Those perceived as losers will see their donor base dry up.

Although a few campaigns may reach the legal limits set for fund raising, most are struggling for every dollar. ``The politicians always spend more money than they should and the treasurers try to stop it and they don't,'' says Mike Berman, Walter Mondale's treasurer during the 1984 campaign.

Since the 1976 election, eligible presidential candidates have qualified for federal funds on a dollar-for-dollar basis for individual contributions up to $250. Last week the United States Treasury made the initial $28.7 million distribution of funds through the Federal Election Commission (FEC). Some campaigns couldn't wait and had already borrowed against the matching funds.

Most candidates have enough money on hand to spend the legal limits in Iowa (about $775,000) and New Hampshire (about $460,000). Alexander Haig Jr. and Sen. Albert Gore Jr., however, have already announced they will bypass Iowa and concentrate on New Hampshire.

``Only the winners in Iowa and New Hampshire ... will have the money available to be real players in Super Tuesday,'' says Bob Edgar, finance director for Sen. Paul Simon. Senator Simon is tied for third place in Democratic fund raising.

But even the relatively flush campaigns of George Bush, Robert Dole, Marion G. (Pat) Robertson, and Mr. Dukakis wince as they look at Super Tuesday.

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