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Katrina forced candidates to cut fund-raising 

U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum stood to earn almost $300,000 tomorrow on a three-stop fund-raising tour.

The problem is, the Pennsylvania Republican's reelection campaign would have collected the cash in the hurricane-ravaged South, starting with breakfast at a downtown New Orleans restaurant followed by lunch in Austin and an evening reception in Houston.

"They have a lot going on over there," said Robert Bickhart, Santorum's finance director. "The last thing we need is to be taking major donor money."

Just as campaigning and fund-raising slowed after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, politics has not proceeded as usual while Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama rebound from Hurricane Katrina and the rest of the country, particularly Texas, appears focused on recovery.

Although his leading Democratic opponent has not changed his fund-raising schedule, Santorum postponed events, including one Friday with Vice President Cheney, and halted direct-mail and phone solicitations. The campaign's estimated loss tops $1 million, accounting for more than a third of what Santorum expected to collect in the last three months, Bickhart said.

Santorum resumed fund-raising Friday with a Harrisburg luncheon, a Lancaster baseball game, and a Philadelphia reception, Bickhart said.

Other candidates and political committees across the country have taken similar steps, curtailing political activity out of respect or, in the case of Santorum's New Orleans fund-raiser, necessity. The senator was to have joined U.S. Sen. David Vitter (R., La.) at a downtown club, which remains closed with the rest of the city.

Cheney postponed a fund-raising appearance Monday with Sen. Jim Talent (R., Mo.), and Sen. Lincoln Chafee (R., R.I.) canceled an event Sept. 9 with Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez. Last week, Florida Gov. Jeb Bush questioned why state legislators were holding fund-raisers as evacuees were pouring into the state and Americans were being asked to fund the recovery effort.

The Pennsylvania Republican Committee suspended its telemarketing calls, as did the national Republican senatorial and congressional committees. The Democratic National Committee canceled its meeting in Phoenix last weekend.

Democrat Robert P. Casey Jr. has not slowed his fund-raising. He collected more than $500,000 at a private Philadelphia luncheon Monday with Sen. Barack Obama (D., Ill.) and traveled to events in Pittsburgh and New York in the last two weeks. He will attend a dozen more before the Sept. 30 fund-raising deadline, said Jay Reiff, Casey's campaign manager.

"The vast majority of our fund-raising is taking place in Pennsylvania and in areas not affected by the floods," Reiff said. "We are certainly not doing any fund-raising in the areas impacted."

John Brabender, Santorum's media consultant, still questioned Casey's decision to continue raising money.

"The Santorum campaign made the good judgment to suspend fund-raising during this time, while the Casey campaign not only continued fund-raising, it even tried to profit off the Katrina disaster," Brabender said.

Last week, Santorum denounced the Casey campaign for an e-mail to supporters that criticized the senator for remarks he made about the hurricane and included an Internet link to a fund-raising page. Casey denied that the e-mail was a contribution pitch.

Reiff, dismissing the criticism, said: "I would question whether they were using the hurricane as an excuse for a lackluster fund-raising quarter."

Reiff referenced a Sept. 9 Santorum e-mail alerting potential donors of the Houston event, a sign the campaign was still trying to build support for the fund-raiser 10 days after Katrina hit. Reiff also asked whether the cancellation of Cheney's scheduled fund-raiser in Wilkes-Barre on Friday had more to do with elective surgery he's scheduled to undergo that weekend.

Bickhart said the hurricane forced Cheney to cancel, and the Sept. 9 e-mail simply reflects how the decision to postpone the Texas events evolved over time.

"If I am Santorum, I err on the side of caution," said Jennifer Duffy, a Senate analyst with the nonpartisan Cook Political Report. "An incumbent will always be held to a higher standard in times of crisis. Given some recent history for Santorum, I think Democrats would seize upon this immediately."

Duffy was referring to Santorum's March trip to Florida, when he prayed with Terri Schiavo supporters outside her hospice. He canceled a Social Security town hall meeting in deference to Schiavo's family but was criticized by Democrats for attending his fund-raisers.

Bickhart said Santorum began assessing the fund-raising landscape Aug. 30, as the situation in New Orleans grew more dire. The campaign went ahead that day with a Pittsburgh golf tournament that collected $225,000 but decided to pull two mailings to 47,000 donors and stop ongoing national calls. One of the mailings was sent last week.

The campaign expects to raise $1.65 million by close of the quarter Sept. 30, Bickhart said, much less than the $3.5 million from the last report.

"The third quarter is sluggish," Bickhart said, adding that Santorum took two weeks for vacation and another two weeks to promote his book, It Takes a Family. "We were counting on September. But there is no way to predict Katrina."

By Carrie Budoff, Philadelphia Inquirer, Sep 18, 2005

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