When 2 million bucks is not enough

Franklin brings in national fund-raising figure

Atlanta's mayoral election may be getting all the attention of a backyard game of boccie ball, but that won't stop it from becoming one of the most expensive campaigns — per vote — in America.

Shirley Franklin's camp acknowledges that it has already raised at least $2.2 million and is looking to add another $1.8 million in the next 80 days. That ambitious goal, combined with the recent arrival of national Democratic fund-raising operative Tommy Thompson, shows not only that Franklin is taking nothing for granted, but has learned a valuable (and expensive) lesson from Mayor Bill Campbell: Don't run out of money before the runoff.

"We're establishing a very aggressive target that exceeds anything that has been done in Atlanta before," says Gary Horlacher, a spokesman for the Franklin campaign.

Whether $4 million is a realistic goal might depend on where Franklin stands in the polls; the closer to the magic, runoff-proof number of 50 percent the more likely it is that money will pour in. She's still far away from that number, according to one recent poll.

But Franklin's fund-raising target definitely gives insight into how her camp thinks this election will go. Because of the scant attention paid the campaigns thus far, the candidate and her supporters expect an advertising avalanche in the next few weeks to help capture the 40 percent of voters — according to a July poll cited in a recent Franklin fund-raising letter — who still haven't made up their minds.

"It's going to get hyped fast," Franklin says. "It's going to be intense, and intensity can cause a group to lose focus."

By this time in 1997, you couldn't avoid Atlanta's mayor's race. The $3.4 million that Campbell raised in his winning effort broke down to about $80 per vote, which is God-help-democracy ludicrous considering that mayoral elections in Houston, Los Angeles and New York around the same time cost the victors $16, $14 and $10, respectively.

Why is the Atlanta election so expensive? You can blame television, where Atlanta is one of the top 10 markets in the U.S. Then there's the get-out-the-vote effort — the units of campaign workers responsible for getting people to the polls — which cost Campbell more than $400,000 in 1997, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

That will be especially important this year, because neither candidate is that well known in the black community, says William Boone, a political science professor at Clark Atlanta University.

To make sure she has the money for an election sprint, Franklin has brought in Tommy Thompson — not to be confused with the former Wisconsin governor and current U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services.

His job is to make the fund-raising operation more efficient.

Robert Gibbs, spokesman for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, says Thompson worked as a senior adviser to the DSCC during the 1998 election cycle when it raised $61.5 million, and as an adviser to current Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle and U.S. Sen. Bob Kerrey. Gibbs and Thompson also worked for U.S. Sen. Max Cleland. Before becoming an independent consultant, Thompson was a partner in a national fund-raising firm.

There's no secret why Franklin would want someone like Thompson going over her operation, Gibbs says.

"Any time you run for office, you want the best people around you," Gibbs says. "[Thompson] fits the bill as one of the very best people."

Having Thompson evaluate the organization "gives us an opportunity" to sharpen the campaign's focus so it can take advantage of the big endorsements — like Maynard Jackson and U.S. Rep. John Lewis, for example — when they happen, says Franklin campaign manager Kasim Reed. "We're not going to lose this election because of a mistake that could have been corrected."

Of course, this might be just positive spin. Why bring in a fund-raising guru if your fund-raising effort is running as it should?

Nevertheless, it's tough to put a negative spin on $2.2 million. Franklin's campaign seems to be running fairly smoothly — witness the recent endorsement by Georgia Equality.

With Pitts basically standing on the sidelines for eight weeks, Franklin's name recognition is on par with that of Pitts, according to the July poll commissioned by Franklin and conducted by Lake, Snell, Perry & Associates. She did all that without endorsements from the big guns who support her.

It was important that she distinguish herself as an individual and campaign face-to-face with voters, Franklin says.

"If we would have led with endorsements without first trying to establish the candidate, her support would have only been on the surface and easy to destabilize," Reed says.

Kevin Griffis@creativeloafing.com