Setting expectations for FEC reports

The first-quarter fundraising reports of an election year mark a new phase in the campaign — a time when expectations grow and the numbers can make or break a candidate.

Strong numbers can give a long-shot candidate credibility; disappointing numbers can sink a favorite.

While several candidates have reported their funds well before reports are due to the Federal Election Commission on April 15, much remains to be seen about how well some leading candidates perform.

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Senate candidates like Florida’s Marco Rubio (R), Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) and former Reps. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) and Rob Portman (R-Ohio) turned in huge quarters — all were over $2.3 million raised — but their performances only up the ante for other Senate candidates who have yet to file.

Thursday is judgment day.

Here are some other Senate candidates who could rise or fall with their fundraising figures:

Indiana: Former Sen. Dan Coats (R)

It hasn’t quite been smooth sailing for Coats early on, and a poor fundraising report would just compound things.
Coats got in the race late and is filing his first report, but he should have had plenty of low-hanging fruit to pick as a former senator and Washington lobbyist.  Before he gets to Rep. Brad Ellsworth (D-Ind.), though, he needs to get through a primary with former Rep. John Hostettler (R-Ind.) and GOP state Sen. Marlin Stutzman. If Coats comes up shy of the notoriously fundraising-averse Hostettler, it will be a huge story.More likely is the possibility that he comes in shy of Democratic nominee Ellsworth’s respectable $625,000 first quarter.  Look for this race to be cast in a new light after Thursday.

Florida: Rep. Kendrick Meek (D)

Meek has been steady-as-he-goes throughout the entire election cycle, raising good money but being discounted by many. That has changed.  With a bloody battle being waged between Republicans Marco Rubio and Gov. Charlie Crist — not to mention the possibility of a three-way race with Crist as an Independent — Meek’s stock is rising.  If he can raise around $1 million, that would keep the ball rolling.  If he can raise a lot more than that (i.e., more than Crist’s $1.1 million), it would be great for him. Either way, though, Rubio’s $3.6 million quarter will continue to be the big story.

Arkansas: Rep. John Boozman (R)

Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.) and Lt. Gov. Bill Halter (D) combined to raise more than $3.3 million in the Democratic primary in the first quarter. Boozman, state Sen. Gilbert Baker, and the rest of the GOP field won’t come close to that figure, but they will begin to sort themselves out with their first-quarter reports. Boozman has never been a great fundraiser, and this will be his first quarter as a Senate candidate. Baker has seen his fundraising slow over three quarters (including less than $160,000 in the first quarter), but he has raised nearly $1 million total for the race. Boozman, who got in the race much later, therefore needs to get up and running quickly. He needs to do much better than Baker this quarter.

Louisiana: Rep. Charlie Melancon (D)

Much like Fisher, Melancon’s fundraising has yet to really take off. He hasn’t cracked $750,000, and the polls continue to show he has a long way to go in his race against Sen. David Vitter (R-La.). Vitter raised $1 million in the first quarter, and if Melancon can get somewhere close to the incumbent this quarter, it might give his campaign a shot in the arm.

North Carolina: Cal Cunningham (D)

National Democrats continue to have high hopes for the Iraq veteran and former state senator, but first he needs to get through a May 4 primary with Secretary of State Elaine Marshall and attorney Kenneth Lewis. 

After an abbreviated $320,000 fourth quarter, a solid first quarter would really help him raise his nearly nonexistent name recognition.

If Cunningham can’t crack $500,000 and really assert himself over Marshall, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC) may need to push him over the finish line in the primary — as it did with now-Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) in 2008. That would be a tough call for the committee with so many competitive races on the map and this one looking like a difficult takeover in November.

New Hampshire: Kelly Ayotte (R)

The former state attorney general and Rep. Paul Hodes (D-N.H.) have continued to set the bar relatively low in their race, each raising about $600,000 or $700,000 per quarter since the race started. But unlike Hodes, Ayotte faces a pair of self-funders in the GOP primary.

Both businessmen Bill Binnie and Jim Bender have banked $1 million for their campaigns — largely through self-funding — and Ayotte had less than that in the bank at year’s end. 

If she can outraise Hodes’s $655,000 first quarter and bank a good amount of it, things would be looking up.

Colorado: Andrew Romanoff (D) and Ken Buck (R)

Former Lt. Gov. Jane Norton (R) this week joined Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) in essentially skipping the state’s convention process. Both are now collecting signatures to petition straight onto the primary ballot.  They are basically conceding their parties’ grass roots to Romanoff and Buck, who appeared headed for wins at their respective state conventions. Now, with their primaries in a new phase, the onus is on Romanoff and Buck to raise enough money to win statewide. Buck, who is now the Weld County district attorney and was endorsed by Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) on Wednesday, hasn’t come close, raising just $45,000 in the fourth quarter.

The former state House Speaker Romanoff, meanwhile, better have gotten at least a little bump from his victory over Bennet at the March precinct caucuses. Reasonable expectations are a couple hundred thousand dollars from Buck and half a million dollars from Romanoff, who raised $337,000 in the fourth quarter.