In closely watched races, the money's about to talk

Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, April 5, 2010

This is a make-or-break week for many campaigns around the country, as fundraising numbers from the first three months of the year begin to come out.

A strong quarter can turn what looked like a long shot into the next big thing. A disappointing last three months can spell the beginning of the end (or the end of the end) for a candidate.

Already, Arkansas Lt. Gov. Bill Halter (D) has made a name for himself, having raised $2 million in a month of active campaigning -- roughly double the total that Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D) collected in advance of the state's May 18 primary.

Who are the other Halters out there? And who will falter? Here's a look at some of the candidates with the most on the line:

-- Andrew Romanoff: The former speaker of the Colorado House drew some positive press when he beat appointed Sen. Michael Bennet in the state's Democratic caucuses last month. But that victory will be rendered almost meaningless if Romanoff can't stay within financial shouting distance of Bennet in advance of their primary faceoff in August. Bennet raised $1.16 million in the final quarter of 2009 to Romanoff's $337,000.

-- Chris Coons: The county executive in Delaware's Newcastle County stepped in to fill the void left by state Attorney General Beau Biden's surprising decision not to seek his father's old Senate seat. Coons is highly touted by national Democrats, and this fundraising quarter is his chance to prove that he's worth the hype.

-- Kelly Ayotte: New Hampshire isn't the easiest place to raise the millions of dollars one needs to run for the Senate, but when you're running against a multimillionaire, there isn't much room for excuses. Kelly Ayotte, the former state attorney general and favorite of the Washington Republican establishment, raised a decent but far-from-spectacular $631,000 in the final three months of 2009 as wealthy businessman Bill Binnie was dumping more than $1 million of his own dollars into the race.

-- Deval Patrick: The governor of Massachusetts makes no secret that he doesn't enjoy the fundraising process. But when the Republican in the race -- businessman Charlie Baker -- is running financial laps around the incumbent, it's a bad sign. Patrick has to show some sign of life, and soon.

-- Charlie Crist: Even as the Florida governor saw his fortunes tumble in his Republican primary fight against former state House speaker Marco Rubio, he still was able to fundraise (and fundraise and fundraise). With Rubio, who has become a national conservative darling in recent months, expected to have a huge quarter, it seems possible that Crist will be outraised -- a dangerous precedent as the governor seeks to rebuild some semblance of momentum in advance of the Aug. 24 Senate primary.

-- John Boozman: The congressman from northwest Arkansas looks like the favorite in the May 18 Republican Senate primary. But underwhelming fundraising effort could open the door for state Sen. Gilbert Baker (or someone else in the crowded field) to pull off an upset.

-- John Hickenlooper: The Denver mayor got into the governor's race in early January with high expectations trailing him. Given that this is his first quarter of active fundraising, he should post a big number. Former congressman Scott McInnis (R) raised more than $1 million in the second half of 2009.

Big names in the Big Easy

The first cattle call of the 2012 Republican presidential race begins Thursday in New Orleans at the Southern Republican Leadership Conference.

The speaking schedule reads like a who's who of potential presidential nominees, with former House speaker Newt Gingrich, former Alaska governor Sarah Palin, Texas Gov. Rick Perry, Rep. Mike Pence (Ind.), Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour and, yes, even Rep. Ron Paul (Tex.) slated to address the gathering.

Two major Republican players -- former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney and Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty -- will not be in attendance. Romney is in the midst of his book tour, and Pawlenty, who had originally been scheduled to speak, canceled recently to attend welcome-home ceremonies for Minnesota troops.

While it's easy to make too much of these moments, it's also possible to make too little of them. In addition to the activists in attendance, scads of national media will be there. A better-than-expected speech could take one of the above names and make him or her the "it" candidate for the next few months -- not exactly a bad place to be.

There will also be a 2012 straw poll at SRLC. Don't take the results too much to heart, however. Then-Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (Tenn.) won the straw vote in 2006 but didn't even make the starting gate in 2008.

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