Every day, Clark Halstead gets reminders in the mail: Elections are just around the corner and a host of politicians would love to have his money.
There's a senatorial race in New Jersey, and New York politicos are raising war chests to run for mayor. But these days, when talk turns to politics in New York City, the subject inevitably comes to the potential battle between city Mayor Rudolph Giuliani and first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton for one of the state's Senate seats.
Mrs. Clinton cannot raise money until she sets up an exploratory committee, which she is expected to do soon. But people like Mr. Halstead - who runs a local real-estate company - are now thinking about who will get their coveted money.
It's a question of unestimable importance. If the Clinton-Giuliani contest occurs, it will likely be tight and hard-fought - money could be the determining factor. And with two of the most powerful fund-raisers in the US eyeing each other, experts say there will be lots of money to be had.
"In the case of both candidates, they are so sharply defined enough and identified with certain philosophies they would draw people and contributions from around the country," says Paul Hendrie of the Center for Responsive Politics in Washington.
This week is an example how much money is available. On Monday night, US Rep. Nita Lowey, a Democrat who represents New York's Westchester County, raised $1 million for a Senate campaign - if Clinton backs out. Clinton was on hand as a "draw" for the well-heeled crowd.
On Tuesday night, Mayor Giuliani raised over $1 million at a birthday bash that cost contributors $1,000 per person.
The push is on to get money early because the race is expected to be very costly. Last year, former Sen. Alfonse D'Amato (R) spent $24 million and lost to Sen. Charles Schumer (D), who spent $17 million.
"It's hard to imagine a Clinton-Giuliani race any less expensive," says Mr. Hendrie.
If Clinton runs, she's not expected to have trouble raising money. She will be able to count on her husband, a legendary fund-raiser, and she can tap traditionally Democratic sources such as labor unions. "She'll also be able to pull from women's groups and organizations," says Paul Kesten, a political consultant with Irenecs Inc. in South Salem, N.Y.
But Mr. Kesten says Clinton may have a hard time getting money from wealthy businessmen because her agenda is not considered pro-business.
That certainly holds true for banker Leonard Harlan. Mr. Harlan says he "absolutely will not" give money to Clinton. He cites her dealings years ago in the futures markets and the sudden appearance of lost records in a White House attic.
Clinton will also have to counter complaints that she's a "carpetbagger," a term that Halstead uses when he says why he is unlikely to contribute money to her.
State Republicans are also not shy about attacking Clinton as an outsider. Rep. Rick Lazio (R) says Clinton needs an exploratory committee "to find Elmira."
If he runs, Giuliani may also have to work hard to raise money. He may get some money from the Republican Party, which would like to pick up a seat. But in his last race for mayor Giuliani received money from labor unions that are not likely to support him in a Senate bid. In addition, he may not have the total support of state Republicans. "Rudy has a lot of skirmishes in his own jurisdiction," says Lee Miringoff of the Marist Institute for Public Opinion in Poughkeepsie, N.Y.