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Having tossed hat into ring, Harkin now forced to pass it


TAKOMA PARK -- Evidently desperate for money, Democratic presidential candidate Tom Harkin and his staff passed the hat last night as he vowed to continue campaigning.

His supporters stood at the doors to the Takoma Academy, soliciting cash and checks from more than 400 people who came to hear the Iowa senator make his first speech following a damaging showing Tuesday in South Dakota's primary.

Although he said "reports of my campaign's death are greatly exaggerated," the urgent fund raising taking place suggested that the campaign might be on a respirator.

Mr. Harkin himself didn't appeal for money at first. He stood aside as state Del. Peter Franchot took the microphone and, urging the audience to contribute, promised to write a $500 check.

But Mr. Harkin interrupted, explaining that under rules governing federal matching funds, only contributions up to $250 would be fully matched. Mr. Franchot, D-Montgomery, then said he'd write two checks of $250 each.

"Give a dollar if that's all you have," Mr. Franchot pleaded. Many in the crowd responded with $5, $10 and $20 bills and, in a few cases, checks.

Although Mr. Harkin may have raised a few thousand dollars, he also raised questions about the financial viability of his campaign -- questions he didn't stay around to answer. He said from the stage that he was to appear shortly on a TV program and raced away.

With his poor showing in South Dakota, many political analysts predicted contributions would fall off.

But he insisted he was staying in the race. And his liberal message received a warm welcome in this Washington suburb, where liberal politics can seem the only politics.

The crowd applauded often, especially when Mr. Harkin contrasted his support for abortion rights with the Bush administration's opposition.

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