All eyes in the political world are fixed on tonight's debate between President Obama and Mitt Romney. But elsewhere, House and Senate candidates are feverishly tallying their fundraising numbers.
The third quarter -- the last full quarter before the November election -- came to a close at midnight Monday, which means we'll soon know who raised how much for the stretch run of the 2012 campaign.
What are the numbers that really matter?
Below, The Fix lays out eight Senate candidates who have plenty at stake in their third-quarter reports, along with a reasonable fundraising goal for each of them:
* Rep. Todd Akin (R-Mo.): Akin committed his “legitimate rape” gaffe shortly after the August primary, and the amount of money he was able to raise thereafter will be telling. Akin is not a strong fundraiser – he pulled in just $41,000 in the first 18 days of July – but controversy can help a candidate raise money if his or her base rallies to his side. The problem for Akin is that's generally more the case with tea party conservatives than with social conservatives, and Akin is much more the latter. Akin needs a big number, though, especially considering his party still isn’t spending money to help his campaign and Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) has raised at least $2.3 million the last two quarters.
Fearless goal: $1.5 million
* Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.): Brown has raised big sums himself, but Elizabeth Warren (D) has put up record quarter after record quarter, bringing her to near parity with Brown when it comes to cash on hand. Through mid-August, Brown had about $14 million in the bank to Warren's $12 million. With a pact curbing outside groups still in effect, candidate money will matter even more down the stretch in the Bay State. Locked in a tight race that appears to be trending slightly for Warren, Brown can hardly afford to be badly outpaced again.
Fearless goal: $6.5 million
* Former Wisconsin governor Tommy Thompson (R): Fundraising has not been Thompson's strong suit this cycle. After a bruising primary depleted his already modest coffers, he had to hunker down and re-focus on raising cash. A Thompson aide said he will report $1.7 million to $2 million for the third quarter. Campaign 101 dictates that you always low-ball estimates in the press in advance of reporting your totals.
Fearless goal: $2 million
* Rep. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.): The Connecticut congressman isn’t the favorite he once was, and a lot of it has to do with money. Republican Linda McMahon is likely to spend tens of millions of dollars on her campaign (she spent $50 million in her 2010 campaign for the state's other Senate seat), which means Murphy will have a hard time competing. He needs as much as he can get. The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee has lent some aid, but candidates themselves always get the best ad rates, and Murphy needs to demonstrate that he hasn’t been totally knocked off his game.
Fearless goal: $1.7 million
* Former senator George Allen (R-Va.): Former Democratic National Committee chairman Tim Kaine (D) has been winning the fundraising battle throughout their campaign, but polling has remained close. That has started to change in recent weeks, though, with Kaine asserting a lead in most polls. A great way for Allen to fight back would be to win his first fundraising quarter of the election cycle.
Fearless goal: $2.4 million
* Former Maine governor Angus King (I): King has clearly lost momentum in his race, and he doesn’t have a national party apparatus to back him up. The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee is spending money against Republican Charlie Summers, but won’t say whether it’s endorsing King or Democratic nominee Cynthia Dill. The DSCC is still in a tough spot, and King doesn’t have a huge war chest to join the fight, having raised just $725,000 in the second quarter with just half a million in the bank. He could really use a sizeable bump in fundraising to ward off a fast-emerging threat from Summers.
Fearless goal: $1.2 million
* Rep. Joe Donnelly (D-Ind.): What once looked like a reach is looking more like a serious opportunity for Democrats to make an unlikely pickup. And that means more pressure on Donnelly to put up a strong quarter. He raised $900,000 in the second quarter. He'll want to easily clear seven digits this time around to keep Democrats enthusiastic about his chances.
Fearless goal: $1.4 million
* Former U.S. surgeon general Richard Carmona (D): Carmona turned heads when he edged out Rep. Jeff Flake (R) in the second quarter. And Flake had to spend more money in his primary against self-funder Wil Cardon than he would have liked. But the well-funded Club For Growth is on Flake's side, in addition to other Republican outside groups. Carmona will need to show he can repeat his successful quarter once again.
Fearless goal: $1.5 million