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Friday, Saturday, Moneyday

September 28, 2007 | 11:50 am

The rent is due Monday. The electric bill on Tuesday. The phone bill on Wednesday, two days before payday. And you think you've got problems.

Well, try running for president and every three months there's a long-lasting, very public judgment made about your political viability according to how much money you have persuaded strangers to hand over. Nevermind your eloquence or creative ideas. You're only as good as your dough pile.

Sunday night is the third-quarter deadline for 2007. Soon after -- maybe before, if some of them have good news they want to leak -- we'll begin seeing actual 90-day totals for each candidate in this the most expensive presidential contest in U.S. history.

Already the maneuvering has started. Yesterday John Edwards announced he would accept public financing of his campaign. This is a dead giveaway that he's not getting enough money on his own, despite all of his fundraising gimmicks. He raised $23 million in the first six months of 2007, but only $9 million in the second quarter.

But Edwards couched the announcement as a challenge to his top competitors -- Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama -- to follow his lead. Unmentioned were the spending limits that come with public financing, which a well-financed candidate would be loath to accept.

"This is not about a money calculation," Edwards said. "This is about taking a stand, a principled stand, and I believe in public financing."

Still, David Bonior, Edwards' national campaign manager, sent out another e-mail appeal for donations, this one seeking contributions of $11, a dime a day from now until the Iowa caucuses. He said $11 buys six yard signs at major intersections and $22 keeps the Davenport field office open half a day.

"You can't buy your way to the Democratic nomination," Bonior said. "You should have to earn the votes of the American people with bold vision and ideas."

Sen. John McCain is running a contest among donors who give before Sept. 30. The campaign will pick three to ride along with McCain on his campaign bus. Fred Thompson sent out a folksy little note that he was out visiting with old friends and making new ones today but wanted to thank some 200,000 supporters for their, well, support and to ask for more via Fred08.com before Sunday night.

Barack Obama dashed off a quick e-mail with the subject line "Hey" just to say he was about to catch a plane, continuing to draw large crowds but "still shy" of his goal of 350,000 donations by Sunday night.

New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson took another tack. He tried to lower expectations for his third-quarter total. "You can't raise much money in July and August," he said between flights to last-minute fundraisers. "Everyone's out for the summer."

He raised $6.3 million the first quarter, $7 million in the second and says he hopes to match the $6.3 million this time. His finance people, if they're any good, already have a pretty good idea how they're going to do by Sunday night. So Richardson is either trying to ease the blow of raising less money this quarter or setting the target low so the political world will be surprised when he exceeds it.

Such is the game of expectations in politics.

--Andrew Malcolm

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