President Clinton may be tough to beat in '96, but last year he lost the fight for campaign money from commercial bankers.

About nine of every 10 banker dollars contributed to presidential campaigns - nearly $890,000 - went to Republican candidates in the 12 months ended Jan. 31, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. While Mr. Clinton raised $105,000 from bankers, Republicans Lamar Alexander, Robert Dole, and Phil Gramm each pulled in more than $200,000.

But the President cashed in with bankers nationwide, while contributions to most of the GOP challengers were regionally based. Only Sen. Dole, R- Kan., and Mr. Clinton have received nationwide financial support from bankers.

But money counts no matter where it's collected.

Former Tennessee governor Alexander's banker allies gave him so much that he led everyone in this category at Jan. 31. People affiliated with First Tennessee Bank in Memphis gave Mr. Alexander $61,700, the largest "bundle" of banker contributions to anyone's campaign. (Bundling contributions is a common corporate practice, because direct company contributions to candidates are illegal.)

In fact, Mr. Alexander won four of the six largest bundles from bankers. But just 30% of his banker money came from outside Tennessee.

That pattern repeated itself with other candidates. Indiana bankers gave 59% of their contributions to Sen. Richard Lugar, R-Ind. And three former candidates - Sens. Phil Gramm, R-Tex., and Arlen Specter, R-Pa., and California Gov. Pete Wilson - each got strong support from bankers in their home states before dropping out of the race.

Mr. Clinton and Sen. Dole each captured the lion's share of the gifts from bankers in their home states, but these donations accounted for much lesser shares of their total banker support.

While Mr. Clinton got 94% of all donations by Arkansas bankers, this only made up 19% of bankers' contributions to the President's campaign. Sen. Dole got all the money Kansas bankers contributed, but this was only 11% of banker gifts to him.

Mr. Clinton and Sen. Dole were strongest in the nation's most important financial regions. Both candidates received significant contributions from bankers in California, Florida, Illinois, and New York. Sen. Dole also got at least $8,000 from bankers in Connecticut, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Ohio, and Virginia.

Notably absent from bankers' gift lists was conservative commentator Patrick J. Buchanan, who has criticized banks and other corporations for firing thousands of employees. Mr. Buchanan only got $750 from bankers in the 12 months - half of what bankers gave perennial fringe candidate Lyndon Larouche.

Mr. Duchemin writes for Medill News Service.

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