When Bill Clinton left the White House, his party lost not only a formidable politician, but also its greatest fundraiser - the man who made Democrats competitive financially for the first time in years.
Now, with their former president spending most of his time at sporting events - and without the prospect of immediate campaign-finance reform to rewrite the rules of the game - Democrats are falling further behind in a race where Republicans still have a strong advantage, thanks to an enthusiastic donor base and carefully honed techniques.
That's not to say the Democrats are doing badly. The Democratic National Committee raised a record $23 million between January and June of this year. But its GOP counterpart raised more than $48 million during the same period - $23 million alone at a single black tie dinner featuring President Bush.
Democratic leaders say they are more committed than ever to building the party's small donor base, particularly in the event that campaign-finance reform passes and they become solely dependent on small, regulated contributions. But these efforts themselves will take time and money - something the party may not be able to spare going into the highly competitive 2002 midterm elections.
"From the early figures, it does look like the Republicans are being very successful in their fundraising," says Larry Noble of the Center for Responsive Politics, a Washington-based group that tracks money in politics. "Democrats are going to have to put more effort into motivating their small donor base, but it will take a lot of work. Especially when they had the White House for eight years, [and] it was easier to go to the large contributors."
The real GOP edge