By Shane D’Aprile - 02/02/11 01:38 AM EST
Vulnerable Democratic senators have raised far less money than their predecessors did two years ago, a sign that their party could struggle to keep its majority.
Sen. Jim Webb (D-Va.) barely raised any money in the final quarter of the year, pulling in just $12,000 and reporting $444,000 on hand. Webb is considered vulnerable, and might face a formidable candidate and fundraiser in former Sen. George Allen (R-Va.).
Several other Democrats, including Sens. Claire McCaskill (Mo.), Sherrod Brown (Ohio), Jon Tester (Mont.) and Joe Manchin (W.Va.), posted solid numbers, but none has more than $1.5 million cash on hand.
The early numbers don’t measure up to those that several of their Senate colleagues posted ahead of the past cycle. At the start of 2009, Sens. Russ Feingold (D-Wis.), Harry Reid (D-Nev.), Patty Murray (D-Wash.) and Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) all had more than $2.5 million cash on hand.
Feingold began the 2010 cycle with $2.5 million, Boxer with $4.1 million, Reid with $3.3 million and Murray with $2.5 million.
The fast start didn’t save Feingold, who lost his reelection bid, but it helped the other three senators win in a tough year for Democrats.
Republicans need to pick up three or four seats in 2012 (depending on President Obama’s reelection contest) to win back the majority in the upper chamber; the party has 23 Democratic targets to choose from. The GOP’s chances also got a lift last month when Sen. Kent Conrad (D-N.D.) announced he would not run for reelection in a deep-red state.
Despite the slow start for some Senate Democrats, the year-end numbers represent a quarter that is traditionally the low point for those heading into a reelection cycle. The 2012 election is still more than 21 months away.
At this point in the last cycle, noted one Democratic strategist, Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), who proved a strong fundraiser and ended up winning a close race, had just been appointed to his seat and had barely raised a dime.
With exceptions, Senate Republicans up in 2012 haven’t posted any mammoth cash-on-hand numbers, either. Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) is sitting on just $1.2 million, Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) just $402,000, and Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) just $1.1 million.
In Virginia, Democrats are grumbling behind the scenes about Webb’s slow start, especially now that Allen is officially in the race.
Webb has yet to make an official decision on 2012 and has said he won’t start fundraising until he makes that choice. Webb’s meager fundraising will add to doubts that he intends to run for reelection.
Nelson has said he intends to run again next year, but speculation that he might opt for retirement lingers. Open-seat contests in either of those states would immediately favor the GOP.
Some encouraging news for Senate Democrats did come in the year-end reports of Sens. Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.) and Herb Kohl (D-Wis.). Both have likewise been the subject of retirement rumors, but Bingaman picked up his fundraising pace over the final three months of 2010, raising $214,000. Kohl didn’t raise any money in the final quarter, though loaned himself $1 million, an indication that he’s prepared to run for another term next year.
If Bingaman and Kohl remain on the ballot in 2012, both races will be tough pickups for the GOP next year.
Despite the early edge for Republicans, the cycle has barely begun and the GOP faces potentially bruising primaries in several key states, including Virginia, Missouri, Texas and Nevada — contests that could siphon financial resources from Republican hopefuls.
One potential sign of trouble for the GOP is Sen. John Ensign’s (R-Nev.) year-end report. Ensign barely raised anything in the fourth quarter of the year and spent some $56,000 on legal fees during the final three months of 2010.
But Republicans might actually be helped if Ensign decided against a reelection bid. The Senate Ethics Committee announced Tuesday it had hired a special counsel to look into whether Ensign used his position to improperly help a former aide. The aide was married to a woman with whom Ensign had an affair.
Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.), a top Democratic target in 2012, has more than $7 million cash on hand.
Sens. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) and Dick Lugar (R-Ind.) reported more than $2 million in the bank in their year-end reports. Both are top targets of Tea Party activists in 2012.
Hatch raised some $400,000 during the final three months of the year and reported $2.5 million cash on hand. Lugar raised some $170,000 during the final quarter of 2010, reporting $2.3 million on hand.
Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), a potential Hatch primary challenger, starts the year with just $140,000 in the bank. Chaffetz raised just $5,000 between Nov. 23 and Dec. 31.