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Kerry plans to raise $80 million war chest

Bush has more than $100 million for his campaign battle

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WASHINGTON — Sen. John Kerry plans to raise $80 million before the Democratic convention this summer as he gears up to run against President Bush, an adversary who has more than $100 million and is already running television advertising.

The Kerry campaign is convening 85 of its top fund-raisers in Washington next week to begin its drive, which will include a tour of 20 cities designed to raise as much as $20 million.

Kerry aides say that the campaign hopes to bring in half its money at large fund-raising events through April. The rest will come from smaller contributions via the Internet, where Kerry has already raised more than $2 million since Tuesday's primary victories, and from direct mail and phone solicitations.

"The ball is rolling," said Louis Susman, Kerry's national finance chairman. "We have a high degree of confidence we'll reach our goal."

So far, the campaign is badly outgunned financially with only a few million dollars on hand, thanks to a tough and expensive primary season and the fund-raising prowess of Bush, whose network brought in more than $144 million as he marched unchallenged through primary season.

Many Democratic fund-raisers and strategists say they are resigned to watching Bush outspend Kerry by tens of millions of dollars in the months ahead, a financial advantage that could be a severe drawback for the Kerry campaign.

Kerry's financial team hopes to stem the advantage by coupling a major fund-raising drive with the natural support Kerry can expect as Democratic groups coalesce around their presumptive nominee.

"It will be a very long row to hoe," Susman said. "But I've climbed higher mountains."

The Democratic Party and several outside organizations are already planning to spend millions on television commercials to support Kerry.

The campaign is also drawing on top fund-raisers who supported other Democratic candidates whose campaigns have since ended. The latest is Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina, who is still in discussions with the Kerry finance team about providing support, Susman said.

"We're going to raise every dollar we can," he said. "We know we'll be competitive but we're not raising money just to be competitive. We want to go toe to toe."