Cash Greases the Wheels of '90 Political Campaigns Big War Chest Seen as Gauge of a Campaign's Focus and Effectiveness Series: Campaign '90. Part 32 of a Series. Second of Three Articles Appearing Today

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AIR FORCE 2 glided gently onto the Cedar Rapids runway at 5:50 p.m. - just in time for Vice President Dan Quayle, looking sun-tanned and refreshed, to make a few remarks to waiting cameras for the local 6 o'clock news.

The next day, Mr. Quayle's airport comments also made the front page in the Cedar Rapids Gazette and the Des Moines Register. But for Iowa Republicans, the vice president's mission here was more than news-making. In a single evening, he raised $40,000 for the United States Senate campaign of Republican Tom Tauke.

Election '90 has shifted into high gear, and from now until Election Day it is campaign cash that will grease the wheels of the Republican and Democratic political machines. Big-name fund-raisers like Quayle and House Speaker Rep. Tom Foley (D) are invaluable allies for Republican and Democratic candidates. Best of all at raking in contributions, of course, is President Bush.

As Democratic activist Mark Gearan puts it: "The president's cachet is cash."

Old-fashioned politicking, like door-to-door canvassing, still has a place in modern-day campaigns. But in the closing weeks of autumn, it is money that talks. It buys TV time - the only means available to sway thousands of voters on a single night.

This year, although not one vote has yet been counted in the nation's 35 Senate races, finance reports already tell us a lot about who is likely to win - and who will almost certainly lose.

Example: West Virginia. Democratic incumbent Sen. Jay Rockefeller, who could easily finance an entire campaign out of his own pocket, has saved up contributions of $1,649,941 for this fall, according to the most recent report of the Federal Election Commission (FEC).

In contrast, his Republican challenger, attorney John Yoder, has $107. It doesn't take a PhD in political science to see where that race is headed. Mr. Rockefeller is favored by 30 points.

Then there's New Mexico. Incumbent Republican Sen. Pete Dominici doesn't seem to have much to worry about either. He has $807,218 in his kitty. That should easily enough snuff out his Democratic foe, Tom Benavides, who has just $135 in reserve.

Contests that are financially lopsided can be found in all parts of the country, from Idaho to Louisiana, and from Virginia to New Jersey. Alex Gage, a Republican political analyst with Market Strategies Inc., in Southfield, Mich., says the flow of money serves as a valuable indicator.

"Candidates who raise a lot of money signal that other aspects of the campaign are coming into focus," he says. "It is also the initial barometer that people use to gauge the success of a campaign."

Mr. Gage recently analyzed 24 Senate campaigns that took place during the 1980s in which incumbent senators lost their bids for reelection. Those races provide some valuable insights, he says.

It is well known that incumbent senators go into a campaign with large financial advantages. Their office staff, paid by taxpayer funds, works around the clock to improve the senator's image. …