Vulnerable Senate Democrats take early fundraising lead over 2012 challengers

Six Democratic Senate incumbents facing tough reelection bids brought in big bucks in the final months of 2011.

All of those vulnerable senators raised more than $1 million in the fourth quarter of last year, an early indication of strength for Democrats, who are defending control of the upper chamber.

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Democratic Sens. Sherrod Brown (Ohio), Jon Tester (Mont.), Debbie Stabenow (Mich.), Claire McCaskill (Mo.), Bob Casey Jr. (Pa.) and Bill Nelson (Fla.) brought in between $1.1 million and $1.6 million apiece for their reelection bid. 

The high number of potentially competitive seats means that if Democrats can make sure their incumbents are on safe ground early in the cycle, they can focus on offense against Republicans and on open-seat races.

Not all candidates had released their fundraising totals as of press time, leaving an incomplete picture of the overall field.  Senate candidates had to file their paperwork by midnight Tuesday.

Overall, Tester has $3.8 million in the bank, McCaskill and Brown each have $5 million, Stabenow has $5.9 million, Casey has $4.3 million and Nelson has $8.5 million — strong totals for each candidate in his or her respective state. 

Many of the Democratic incumbents also have cash advantages over their GOP opponents, although not all the Republican contenders had released their numbers.

Brown’s GOP opponent, Ohio State Treasurer Josh Mandel, has not announced his quarterly figures but had $3.3 million cash on hand as of the end of September. 

Tester’s opponent, Rep. Denny Rehberg (R-Mont.), raised $660,000 and has $2.1 million in the bank for the race.

Businessman John Brunner (R), one of the Republicans running for the right to face McCaskill this fall, brought in more than $1.26 million for his Senate bid, but he donated just over $1 million of his own money to his campaign. Rep. Todd Akin (R-Mo.), also running in the GOP primary, had not released his numbers as of press time.

Brunner has spent $1 million and has only $200,000 cash on hand. Former state Treasurer Sarah Steelman raised a paltry $84,000 and has $573,000 cash on hand.

One of Casey’s GOP opponents, businessman Tom Smith, loaned himself $4.25 million and had $4.4 million cash on hand for his race. Casey is a low priority for Republicans at this point, although they hope they can make the race competitive.

Democratic outside groups are also likely to be outspent by Republican outside groups for Senate races this fall, making early fundraising even more important for these candidates.

Republicans need to win a net of four seats to take control of the Senate (if President Obama wins reelection), and Democrats have many more seats to defend this election. Having their incumbents turn in consistently strong fundraising totals, as these candidates have done, will make it easier for them to plan their spending strategy next fall.