Fundraising Picks Up for GOP Senate Hopefuls

By Ben Pershing
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, July 18, 2009

Shut out of power across the capital and facing a 60-vote Democratic majority in the Senate, Republican candidates are working to balance the scales in at least one vital category -- campaign cash.

Reports filed last week with the Federal Election Commission showed GOP hopefuls in some key Senate contests posting strong fundraising totals for the second quarter of 2009, putting them in position to try to halt their party's recent losing streak.

Even achieving rough parity in campaign cash would be something of a victory for the GOP, given that Democrats control both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue. But that Democratic dominance may have motivated Republican donors to open their wallets.

"Democrats are closer to a one-party monopoly in this town than they have been since Lyndon Johnson was president," said Rep. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), who is running to succeed retiring Sen. Christopher S. Bond (R-Mo.). That dynamic "helps in all aspects of the campaign," Blunt said, including fundraising.

After what many analysts dubbed a lackluster first quarter of fundraising, Blunt raised $1.4 million from April through June and had $1.8 million in the bank as of June 30. His expected Democratic opponent, Missouri Secretary of State Robin Carnahan, raised $1 million in the quarter and had $1.4 million in the bank.

The GOP's advantage is more pronounced in Florida: Gov. Charlie Crist lapped the field by raising $4.3 million in the second quarter, nearly four times the haul of the leading Democratic contender, Rep. Kendrick B. Meek. And in Ohio, former Bush administration official Rob Portman brought in $1.7 million over the past three months, more than double the total of his two strongest Democratic opponents.

"Republican contributors are likely to be more and more concerned about the direction of the Democratic agenda," said Stuart Rothenberg, editor of the nonpartisan Rothenberg Political Report. "I think there is a growing energy within the [GOP]. But having said that, the gas tank was empty, so there's a long way to go here."

Democrats had some bright spots, as well.

In Nevada, Republicans have talked up their efforts to topple Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid, but the Democrat banked $3.3 million for the quarter and has a $7.3 million war chest. His most prominent potential opponent, Rep. Dean Heller (R), has about 3 percent of that total, with roughly $250,000 in cash.

In Kentucky, state Attorney General Jack Conway (D) raised $1.3 million for the quarter and Sen. Jim Bunning (R) -- whom GOP officials hope will retire -- brought in $300,000. Another potential Republican candidate, Kentucky Secretary of State Trey Grayson, raised $600,000.

Sen. Christopher J. Dodd (Conn.), perhaps the Democrats' most endangered incumbent, raised a middling total -- $1.2 million for the quarter -- given that he chairs the banking committee. He still easily topped the $750,000 total of former congressman Rob Simmons (R).

Democrats charge that Republican tactics in Washington are hurting the minority's candidates out in the field.

"Our donors are motivated every time they see a Republican wipe their hands clean of responsibility to deal with the economy," said Eric Schultz, spokesman for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.

Election Day 2010 is 16 months away, and some campaigns are only beginning to get off the ground. In Illinois, Rep. Mark Steven Kirk (R) threw his hat in the ring for an open Senate seat just last week (though Democrats say his interest in running has been anything but secret). He has $1 million in his existing campaign account, and the best-known Democratic candidate, state Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias, has $1.7 million in the bank.

Despite some impressive GOP fundraising, Rothenberg said, "there aren't that many states where Democrats are in trouble." But Republicans still express hope, because they have almost nowhere to go but up.

"If you look at the map, it's going to be a very competitive cycle," said National Republican Senatorial Committee spokesman Brian Walsh. "We're in far better position than we were five months ago."

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