Reading the tea leaves: First-quarter fundraising numbers

It's still early in the 2012 campaign cycle, but the close of the year's first fundraising quarter sheds some light on which members are revealing early signs of strength with their cash totals.

Here are some of the groups we were watching as the totals rolled in:

Vulnerable Senate Dems

At least half a dozen Senate Democrats whom Republicans have hopes of defeating in 2012 posted solid first-quarter numbers, raising $1 million or more. Sen. Bill Nelson (Fla.) was tops among the group, hauling in more than $2 million and reporting $4.5 million cash on hand. The enthusiasm among Democrats, however, was tempered by the huge haul reported by Florida state Senate President Mike Haridopolos. The Republican showed some fundraising prowess in the first quarter, bringing in $2.6 million.

In Missouri, it was good news for first-term Sen. Claire McCaskill who raised $1 million during the quarter despite the flap over a tax bill on her private plane. The two Republicans currently in the race against McCaskill didn't impress with their totals: former state Treasurer Sarah Steelman raised $186,000 and Ed Martin reported just $162,000.

Sens. Ben Nelson (Neb.) and Jon Tester (Mont.) raised more than $1 million in the first quarter, and both took issue with the totals reported by their GOP challengers. Rep. Denny Rehberg (R-Mont.) reported more than $1 million, but Tester's camp was quick to point out that only $580,000 of it came in the form of contributions. Rehberg transferred close to half a million from his House account. And Nebraska Republican Jon Bruning reported close to $1.5 million, but $600,000 was cash left over from his 2008 Senate bid.

Democratic Sens. Sherrod Brown (Ohio) and Debbie Stabenow (Mich.) also topped the million-dollar mark. Neither has a top-tier Republican challenger officially in the race yet.

The "Kerry-Obama" districts

The Democrats' drive to take back the House in 2012 starts with the 14 Republican-held districts that were won by both Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) in the 2004 presidential race and by President Obama in 2008. The districts have "strong Democratic DNA," according to Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Steve Israel and will be on the DCCC's target list next year.

Among the GOP members who hold those seats, there were some clear standouts in the money chase. Rep. Allen West (Fla.) raised an impressive $433,000, and Rep. Steve Stivers (Ohio) hauled in $409,000. Reps. Patrick Meehan (Pa.), Robert Dold (Ill.) and Sean Duffy (Wis.) also had strong quarters. Meehan reported $338,000, Dold raised $310,000 and Duffy brought in $240,000.  

Freshman Reps. Ann Marie Buerkle (N.Y.), Lou Barletta (Pa.) and Bobby Schilling (Ill.), however, were on the low end of the spectrum. Buerkle raised just $65,000 and reported $110,000 on hand; Barletta raised $106,000 and reported just $90,000 in the bank, and Schilling raised $111,000 and is sitting on $98,000.

A number of Republicans in this group are also dealing with leftover campaign debt. Barletta still has $288,000 of debt on the books, and Schilling has $54,000. Rep. Mike Fitzpatrick (Pa.) managed to raise $208,000, but reported $100,000 in remaining debt.

The GOP freshmen

There's some overlap here with the House Republicans in the 14 "Kerry-Obama" districts, with West, Stivers and Meehan being among the core of strong freshman first-quarter performers, but this group holds some other names who had strong early fundraising.

Rep. David McKinley (W.Va.) has topped all freshman Republican members so far, reporting $536,000 in the first quarter. Reps. Kristi Noem (S.D.), Nan Hayworth (N.Y.) and Adam Kinzinger (Ill.) also posted strong numbers. Noem brought in close to $400,000, Hayworth raised $330,000 and Kinzinger raised $270,000.

On the low end are Buerkle, Barletta, Schilling and Reps. Renee Ellmers (N.C.) and Daniel Webster (Fla.). Ellmers raised $104,000, and Webster was only able to manage some $30,000.

The Redistricting Fights

The incumbent vs. incumbent matchups are finally starting to take shape now that states are rolling out redistricting plans, and early fundraising numbers offer the most tangible sign of an early advantage for either side. The approval of Iowa's new district map earlier this week set up a clash between Democratic Rep. Leonard Boswell and Republican Rep. Tom Latham, after the Republican decided he would run against Boswell in 2012 rather than face a primary with fellow GOP Rep. Steve King. Latham starts with an enormous cash edge, reporting a $414,000 first-quarter haul to Boswell's $147,000. The Democrat has less than $200,000 banked, compared to Latham's $980,000.

In Louisiana, it's freshman Republican Rep. Jeff Landry against four-term Republican Rep. Charles Boustany after a plan that drew Landry into Boustany's district passed the state legislature. Boustany, who starts with the edge in the race given that the new district comprises much of his current terrain, also outraised Landry. Boustany pulled in $234,000 in the first quarter to Landry's $197,000 and maintains a healthy cash-on-hand edge. Boustany reported $694,000 in the bank to Landry's $171,000.

And in Missouri, Democratic Rep. Russ Carnahan raised more than $300,000 in the first quarter and reported $285,000 on hand. Carnahan, who may have to run against fellow Democratic Rep. Lacy Clay next year, made a statement with his first-quarter number. Clay raised just $16,000 during the first three months of the year and reported $221,000 on hand.