Looking With Interest at 2010 Money

(By Bill O'leary -- The Washington Post)
Buy Photo
By Chris Cillizza
Monday, February 9, 2009

Money isn't everything in politics. Just most things.

At this stage of an election cycle -- read: early -- fundraising numbers are the best, and in many cases only, indication that an incumbent is readying for a tough reelection fight or perhaps pondering the possibility of retirement.

And so The Fix waited expectantly for the year-end fundraising numbers, covering Oct. 1 to Dec. 31, 2008, for the 31 senators still planning to seek reelection and, when they finally arrived late last week, spent hours poring over the data. (Political nerd alert!)

Below are our assessments of the best and worst of the reports as well as a few members to watch.

The best: Sen. Richard C. Shelby (R-Ala.) hasn't had a real race since he won his seat in 1986, but he continues to stockpile cash as if he is a prime Democratic target. Shelby's $13.4 million war chest is the biggest of any incumbent on the board for 2010 and is sure to attract lots of attention from National Republican Senatorial Committee operatives seeking to separate him from some of that cash. Sens. Evan Bayh (D-Ind.) and Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) are the only other members of the $10 million cash-on-hand club: Bayh ended 2008 with $10.9 million in the bank, while Schumer, perhaps the best fundraiser in the Senate, closed the year with $10.6 million.

Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) continues to prove his ability to rake in dough ahead of what is expected to be another tough race in 2010; Specter raised $611,000 in the final three months of last year and is now sitting on $5.8 million.

Honorable mention: Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) put together the biggest fundraising quarter of anyone on his side of the aisle ($811,000) and ended the period with $3.3 million in the bank. Republicans haven't found a challenger to Reid yet, and with that kind of fundraising performance, he is making sure to give second thoughts to whoever is considering such a contest.

The worst: Give Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) this: He does things his own way. Coburn raised just $19,000 in the final three months of last year and ended 2008 with a meager $55,000 on hand. That's nothing new for Coburn: He was outspent by more than $1 million in the 2004 race by then-Rep. Brad Carson (D) but still won by 12 percentage points. Coburn isn't likely to be seriously challenged in 2010; term-limited Gov. Brad Henry (D) is seemingly uninterested in a federal race.

Not so for Sen. Jim Bunning (R-Ky.), who, despite lagging poll numbers and a major target on his back from national Democrats, collected a meager $28,000 in the final quarter of 2008 and closed the year with just $150,000 on hand. Um, not good. It's why Senate Republican leaders are engaging in a not-so-subtle attempt to persuade Bunning to step aside before 2010, although he hasn't been listening.

National Republicans believe they have a chance at pulling an upset in Connecticut against Sen. Christopher J. Dodd (D), and the five-term incumbent didn't do much to scare away former congressman Rob Simmons, who is weighing the race, over the past few months. Dodd raised a respectable $279,000 between Oct. 1 and Dec. 31 but closed the period with just $671,000 on hand -- not much for an incumbent senator.

Watch list: Most of the senators rumored to be weighing retirement in 2010 remain in relatively strong financial shape. Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa) is sitting on more than $2.8 million and told Bloomberg's Al Hunt last week: "It took me 22 years to get enough seniority to do good for my people, and I'm going to continue to do good." (You go, Senator!) Sen. Daniel K. Inouye (D-Hawaii), who will be 86 years old on Election Day 2010, raised just $119,000 in the final three months of the year but had a healthy $1.16 million in the bank.

Hard-Hitting Prelims

General-election races may attract the most interest from casual political observers, but for true political junkies there is nothing that matches the intensity (read: nastiness) that defines primary fights.

In general elections, the differences tend to be more issue-driven -- there are typically real disagreements between the two candidates on a variety of social and fiscal matters; in a primary, there are usually few such differences, which ensures that the fight often descends into the personal.

Although it's early in the 2010 election cycle, there are already a number of intraparty matchups brewing that promise to be memorable for their cost, their ferocity or -- in an ideal world -- a little of both.

Our top five primaries are below. Check out http://www.washingtonpost.com/thefix for a fuller list.

5. Kansas, Senate (R): Sen. Sam Brownback's decision to return to the Sunflower State and run for governor has created a terrific primary between Reps. Jerry Moran and Todd Tiahrt. Moran has the early jump, thanks to his cash position ($2.5 million on hand) and his exposure statewide: He represents a sprawling congressional district that encompasses most of western and central Kansas. Given that no Democrat has won a Senate seat in Kansas since 1932, this is clearly a nomination worth winning.

4. Virginia, governor (D): Even before former Democratic National Committee chairman Terence R. McAuliffe decided he wanted to be governor of the commonwealth, this race was highlighting the 2009 calendars of political junkies. Now, with three quality candidates -- McAuliffe as well as former state representative Brian Moran and state Sen. Creigh Deeds -- seeking the post, the Virginia Democratic Party has something of an embarrassment of riches following gubernatorial victories by Mark Warner and Tim Kaine.

3. California, governor (R): Take two political unknowns, add $50 million of personal money (at least) and voilĂ ! -- you have the makings of a great primary. Former eBay chief executive Meg Whitman and state insurance commissioner Steve Poizner are both extremely wealthy and (apparently) extremely willing to spend from their own pockets. This primary could set all spending records and, for that fact alone, is well worth watching.

2. Illinois, Senate (D): When former governor Rod Blagojevich (D) appointed Roland W. Burris to the world's greatest deliberative body, he left a lot of wannabe senators at the altar. Burris continues to play coy about whether he will run for a full term in 2010, but even if he does he seems likely to face a primary challenge from at least one major Democratic candidate. State Attorney General Lisa Madigan, Rep. Jan Schakowsky and state Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias are names most regularly mentioned.

1. Texas, governor (R): Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison has had her eye on the governorship ever since she was first elected to the Senate in 1993. The only problem? Gov. Rick Perry has no plans to vacate the office. Hutchison has already transferred nearly $8 million from her Senate account to a gubernatorial war chest, and Perry is no slouch himself, with more than $6.5 million in the bank.


After helping to guide House Democrats to a 24-seat pickup in 2008, Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee political director Brian Smoot is off to start his own consulting business. But it won't feel all that different; Smoot is bringing along three other DCCC veterans, including Casey O'Shea, who served as the national field director for the committee in 2008. Collectively, the new firm will be known as 4C Partners. "We look forward to putting our experiences, relationships and knowledge of the political landscape to work," Smoot said of the new venture.

2 DAYS: Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin (remember her?) turns 45. If you're doing the math, the Republican from Wasilla won't even be 50 by 2012.

15 DAYS: President Obama addresses a joint session of Congress.

© 2009 The Washington Post Company