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Gephardt Plans Big D.C. Event Tonight

With just five days remaining before the critical deadline for second-quarter fundraising reports, Rep. Richard Gephardt (D-Mo.) is calling on his House colleagues to help rake in big dollars for his presidential campaign.

The 31 Members who have endorsed Gephardt’s presidential bid will serve as the host committee for a fundraiser tonight that will raise $250,000 for the Missouri Congressman.

“We are going to have a great event,” said Steve Elmendorf, a senior adviser to the campaign. “Dick has a lot of friends in Washington.”

Gephardt’s big score comes as all nine presidential candidates are pushing hard to bring in money prior to June 30, the end of the second leg of the money primary.

Any of the numbers posted by Democratic presidential candidates pale when compared to the financial juggernaut put together by the Bush campaign. The president raised $4 million at a New York City event Tuesday night and is expected to show more than $20 million raised in his June 30 report.

Sen. Bob Graham (Fla.) held a fundraiser in the Watergate apartment building last Wednesday that raised $200,000 for his campaign. Former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean appeared at both a low-dollar and high-dollar event in Washington yesterday and had another $1,000-per-person reception scheduled in the city today. Sen. Joe Lieberman (Conn.) plans to hold a telethon fundraiser in his home state on Sunday.

Sens. John Edwards (N.C.), John Kerry (Mass.), the Rev. Al Sharpton, former Sen. Carol Moseley Braun (Ill.), and Rep. Dennis Kucinich (Ohio) are also in the race and actively fundraising.

Financial reports covering contributions and expenditures from April 1 to June 30 are due at the Federal Election Commission by July 15.

Activists, donors and the press will slice and dice the reports as they attempt to divine which candidates are gaining momentum and which candidates are flagging with the Iowa caucuses less than seven months off.

Gephardt’s flurry of activity signals the importance of a strong showing for the longtime Congressman in this quarter.

Although Gephardt’s $3.5 million take in the first three months of the year placed him third out of the nine candidates, Edwards ($7.4 million) and Kerry ($7 million) drew most of the headlines.

Gephardt’s first quarter numbers also led to whispers that after serving as the prime fundraiser in Democrats’ failed attempts to take back the House, there was little energy for a second Gephardt presidential campaign.

In 1988, Gephardt won Iowa but dropped out of the race shortly afterward due to a lack of funds.

By most independent accounts, Gephardt has gained at least some steam in recent months with strong showings on the stump and at candidate forums. A solid financial performance would further strengthen Gephardt’s hand.

“He is gaining quite a bit of momentum over the last three months and the [FEC] report will reflect it,” said Rep. William Lacy Clay (D-Mo.), one of the national co-chairmen of Gephardt’s presidential campaign.

Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Robert Matsui (Calif.) added that “people gave [Gephardt] a second look” after he unveiled his health care plan.

Matsui, a Gephardt backer, added that many insiders “believe now he is in the running.”

On the campaign trail, Gephardt has cast himself as a small-town boy with humble roots, but he has also worked hard behind the scenes to consolidate support among his House colleagues and raise big money through his connections in Washington.

His 31 Member endorsements far outdistance the 16 garnered by Kerry, who is in second place. Kucinich was the last of the nine candidates to receive a Member endorsement, gaining the backing of Rep. Lynn Woolsey (Calif.) last week.

Gephardt’s campaign hopes the event, to be held at the St. Regis Hotel, will reward their spadework. There will also be a $100-per-ticket event at Lounge 201, a trendy bar on Capitol Hill, following the Member reception aimed at Congressional staffers and other younger donors.

A third Washington event, targeted at gay and lesbian givers, is scheduled for Monday at a private home. Gephardt’s daughter, Chrissy, is scheduled to attend.

Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) and Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (Md.) will headline the reception at the St. Regis. Other Members scheduled to attend include current DCCC Chairman Matsui as well as past DCCC chairs Nita Lowey (N.Y.) and Patrick Kennedy (R.I.).

“We will have a very good turnout and there will be a lot of support for the candidate,” predicted Clay.

The event is also targeted at the lobbying community, a rich vein of campaign giving within Washington.

Elmendorf, himself a lobbyist, said he has been working his colleagues hard and expects a strong turnout.

“They’re pushing,” said one lobbyist about Gephardt’s fundraising effort for the reception. “It’s another crack at the Washington crowd.”

The lobbyist added that “it’s never a cakewalk” for Gephardt — or any of the candidates — to raise funds from the D.C. community given the crowded field populated with elected officials.

There are four levels of giving for the reception. Those who raise $10,000 for the effort are deemed “chairs”; $5,000 are “hosts”. “Sponsors” must contribute $2,000, and “guests” $1,000.

Ed Henry contributed to this report.

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