George W. Bush Prospects the Deep Wallets

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While George W. Bush saunters toward a presidential candidacy -- allies say he’ll announce an exploratory committee within a week or two -- fund-raisers for rival campaigns are getting night sweats. “Waiting for his decision has been suffocating,” complains a top moneyman for another campaign. Other Republican hopefuls crisscross the country and strain eager smiles for potential donors, but the Texas governor has let the party come to him. Last week a muscular troika of rainmakers that included investment banker Henry Kravis, oilman John Moran and fund manager Lewis Eisenberg made the pilgrimage. Rival camps are terrified that Bush will reject federal matching funds and the campaign-spending limits they impose, and Bush’s aides are coy on the subject. Why pass up the free money? To compete with Steve Forbes and his unlimited wallet, say Bush supporters who are quick to recount that the publisher’s spending spree nearly crippled Bob Dole in the last election. And after last week’s orchestrated endorsements by fellow governors -- a draft-Bush campaign for a candidate who seems reluctant mostly for show -- supporters are boasting that Bush will be able to raise more than the spending caps would allow.