Billion-Dollar Presidential Candidates

The first wide-open presidential race since 1928, with no incumbent president or vice president in the running, has begun in earnest, one year before a primary vote is even cast.

Competition for staffing, money and media attention is fierce. This weekend three new candidates -- Sens. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., and Sam Brownback, R-Kan., and Democratic Gov. Bill Richardson of New Mexico -- threw their hats into the ring, joining 20 or so other White House hopefuls.

This is partly a function of the primary and caucus schedule, which will likely start earlier and be more front loaded in 2008 than a typical election year.

The 1992 Iowa caucus was held on Feb. 10. This time, the caucus is scheduled for Jan. 14, 2008, and by Feb. 5 at least 12 states will have held their contests -- with other major states such as Florida, Michigan and California considering an earlier date as well.

So what used to be a four or five-month process has been condensed to two or three weeks.

"Someone will have enough delegates by the first week of February to be able to claim they are the nominees of both the Democrat and Republican parties," said Terry McAuliffe, former chairman of the Democratic National Committee and the chairman of Clinton's 2008 campaign. "So you've got to lay your groundwork. You've got to begin putting your operations together now."

'Unlimited' Spending Race

In October 1991, Bill Clinton, then governor of Arkansas, declared his candidacy and came to the New Hampshire primary having raised a little more than $3 million. Sen. Clinton has declared nine months ahead of that schedule. And she and the other front-runners hope to raise between $75 and $100 million by the end of this year -- each.

"It used to be a candidate with a couple of million of dollars in the bank could get them through Iowa, New Hampshire and hope from there," said Democratic strategist Joe Lockhart. "Now … you have to be ready to run a full national campaign from day one and that takes a lot of money."

The fierce competitions for that money will likely help front-runners, driving second and third-tier candidates from the race.

"You will have more people drop out in the course of this year before an actual voting event is held than actually drop out in the aftermath of the voting event," said Bush adviser Matthew Dowd.

The candidates who raise money will spend it on television ads, staffing, political consultants, polling and acquiring data about voters in order to target them.

And that's just the primary season.

Clinton has indicated that if she is the nominee for the general election, she will opt out of the public financing system, turning down $84 million in order to be able to spend more.

"We are going to see an unlimited spending arms race … we're going to see the two presidential nominees spend a total of $1 billion in private funds in this election," said Fred Wertheimer, president and CEO of Democracy 21, which advocates for public financing of campaigns.

But dollars aside, strategists from both parties point to a long line of well-funded candidates who ultimately were unable to connect with voters.

Money can buy you a lot of things, but it cannot make a candidate articulate the hopes and dreams of voters.