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Harry Jaffe: Money and the mayor's race: Who can raise big dough?

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Local,DC,Harry Jaffe,Vincent Gray,Tommy Wells,Muriel Bowser

Money being the mother's milk of politics and all, where might it wash up in the upcoming mayoral campaigns? Who will be the recipient of all that pay-to-play cash, known in more refined circles as campaign contributions? Experts tell me it will take about $2 million to win.

I suspect Muriel Bowser had money in mind when she jumped out front on Saturday and became the first official mayoral candidate. She has a year -- from now to the April 2014 primary -- to raise cash and get her name out citywide, beyond the boundaries of Ward 4, the well-endowed environs where she's waged successful council campaigns.

Tommy Wells convened his exploratory committee, in part, to begin exploring how much money he might be able to raise if he ventures beyond adventure to actually filing papers to challenge Bowser. He's been able to bring in enough cash to win races in Ward 6, centered on Capitol Hill.

Mayor Vince Gray is making moves to a run for a second term -- if he emerges unscathed from the federal investigations of his last mayoral campaign. All bets are off on that score.

At first blush, Bowser is in position to raise piles of cash. She knows the drill: She raised $350,000 in her last council campaign.

She inherits elements of Adrian Fenty's machine, which financed his successful mayoral run in 2008, mostly in small amounts from individual donors. In losing to Gray in his bid for a second term, Fenty raised nearly $4 million, that time from big-dollar developers and corporations.

Bowser might be able to attract contributions in small doses from all over the city, as did Fenty in his first run. And Bowser just became chairwoman of the council's Economic Development Committee, which puts her in the position to milk private-sector fat cats who need her committee.

"She has the potential to raise the money she needs to run an effective campaign," says William Lightfoot, a Fenty supporter who's backing Bowser.

Wells can honestly run on his ethical purity, but that may not help him raise money. Last year he introduced campaign reform legislation that would have prohibited bundled corporate donations as well as money from city contractors. Bowser, who chaired the relevant committee, said members needed more time to consider the bill. It died. But it seems to me that Wells has to practice what he preaches and decline certain contributions -- right? I could not reach him to confirm that suspicion.

As for Gray, if he runs for mayor rather than running afoul of the law, he can expect cash from unions and developers, who will hedge their bets on Bowser. The incumbent, good or bad, can always raise some money.

There's always the Candidate X factor, the unexpected mayoral hopeful who might run and alter the cash calculations. But at this early stage, Bowser has the best chance of raising the big bucks, which makes her immediately formidable.

Harry Jaffe's column appears on Wednesday. He can be contacted at hjaffe@washingtonian.com.

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