Struggling to raise money in Florida for his fledgling U.S. Senate campaign, former Miami Mayor Maurice Ferré is looking out of state — to Puerto Rico.
Ferré, 74, who was born on the island and stayed involved in politics there, has already attended one reception in Puerto Rico and said he hopes to have four more events there by the end of this year. Until Wednesday, his Web site gave an e-mail address for a campaign fundraising headquarters in Puerto Rico: SanJuanHQ@Ferré2010.com.
Ferré's major Democratic rival is U.S. Rep. Kendrick Meek of Miami, who got a nine-month head start and has about $2.67 million in the bank.
"I have not raised very much so far," Ferré acknowledged. "Fundraising is not easy, and Kendrick was way ahead of the game."
In a sign of the political muscle Ferré is up against, former President Bill Clinton headlined his fifth fundraiser for Meek on Tuesday in New York.
While statewide candidates typically supplement their campaigns by working political circuits outside of Florida, a fundraising operation based in Puerto Rico is unusual — though perfectly legal because it is a U.S. territory. Members of Congress from John Mica of Florida to Don Young of Alaska have traveled to Puerto Rico to raise money, Ferré said.
"In addition to there being Republicans and Democrats, there is the divide between pro-statehood and non-statehood Puerto Ricans, and I am trying to work all four sides," Ferré quipped.
Ferré's campaign manager, Todd Wilder, said there is no physical office in Puerto Rico, just a handful of supporters who are organizing events.
"That's where we have found a lot of potential," he said.
Ferré's son and former chief of staff are hosting receptions for him in South Florida this month, Wilder added. Ferré was Miami's mayor in the 1970s and 1980s.
Democratic fundraiser Kirk Wagar, who spearheaded President Barack Obama's campaign in Florida, said Ferré should capitalize on his contacts in Puerto Rico.
"A lot of times, Senate campaigns set up a national office. Sometimes it's in New York. Sometimes it's in Washington. His happens to be in Puerto Rico," Wagar said. "I think it's smart."
But other campaign operatives said Ferré's reliance on Puerto Rico is a bad sign for his campaign.
"Maurice has friends in Florida, but in a tough economy nobody wants to throw away good money on supporting somebody else's wild goose chase," said Miami fundraiser Ana Navarro, who has given to Meek and to Marco Rubio, who faces Gov. Charlie Crist in the GOP primary.
Ferré's seat on the Miami-Dade Expressway Authority offers other potential fundraising contacts, though he said he would not take money from companies that do business with that board. Still, he has no plans to resign, and said Meek and Crist leverage the power of their public offices to raise money.
"Who has the best possibility of using his office to raise money — the governor of Florida, Kendrick Meek or Maurice Ferré?" he asked. "I want to stay on (the board), and there's no reason for me to get off."
Miami-Dade County law suggests Ferré will have to step down from the board if he officially qualifies for the 2010 ballot in April.