Democratic senators facing tough 2014 reelection fights low on money

Several Senate Democrats who are up for reelection in 2014 have raised less than half a million dollars for their campaign war chests despite being vulnerable to Republican challengers.

Sens. Mark Begich (D-Alaska), Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) and Tom Udall (D-N.M.) have spent relatively little time raising money during their first term. Begich represents a traditionally Republican state, while Shaheen and Udall hail from states where Republicans are often competitive.

At the end of March, Begich reported $449,000 in his campaign account, Shaheen reported $148,000 and Udall reported $205,000.

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The modest fundraising hauls could be a troubling sign for Democrats, who are facing a daunting election map in 2014 regardless of whether they hold onto their majority in this year’s election.

Democrats will be defending 20 seats in 2014, compared to just 13 for Republicans. That’s a smaller disparity than this year, when the ratio is 23 to 10, but the 2014 map looks much less favorable for Democrats due to where the races are taking place.

Republican and Democratic strategists say Sens. Al Franken (D), Tim Johnson (D) and Kay Hagan (D) will face difficult 2014 races in Minnesota, South Dakota and North Carolina, respectively.

The task for Democrats will only get harder if the party suffers a wave of retirements, which would put the party immediately on the defensive for the 2014 cycle.

Sens. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) and Carl Levin (D-Mich.), two veteran legislators up for reelection in 2014, have less than $1 million on hand in their campaign accounts, fundraising reports show. Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.), another longtime incumbent, has just $170,000 in his account.

The junior Democrats who will be fighting for survival do not appear worried about their fundraising. An aide to Begich noted the senator recently raised about $100,000 at an event with Sen. Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii) and “has already been laying important groundwork” for his race.

A Shaheen spokesman said his boss “is focused on raising money for colleagues who are up this year.”

Democrats say they’ll be playing offense in 2014 as well, and see Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) as vulnerable.

“The most vulnerable Republican is Mitch McConnell,” said a senior Democratic strategist who noted McConnell won with only 53 percent of the vote in 2008. “He has the lowest reelection number of any Senate Republican running.”

Defeating McConnell would be a very tough task, considering he had $5.1 million cash on hand in his campaign account at the end of March and survived 2008, a terrible year for Republican candidates.

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“If Democrats want to set a cash bonfire in Kentucky again, that’s certainly up to them. We’ve got a political graveyard full of folks who can tell them how to apply for the permit,” said Josh Holmes, McConnell’s chief of staff.

Campaign war chests are not a perfect indicator of pending retirements, but they can provide a signal — or at least scare off potential challengers.

Some Democrats think Rockefeller, who was first elected to the Senate in 1984, could retire. He made his mark chairing the Senate Intelligence Committee and the Senate Commerce Committee and has been beset by orthopedic problems.

Rockefeller has remained vague about his plans.

“The 2014 election is still a good ways off, and the senator is staying focused on work rather than the politics. But let there be no doubt that he intends to ask West Virginians for their continued support when the time comes,” said a Rockefeller spokeswoman.

One Democratic strategist said Rockefeller’s choice could depend on the plans of Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.). Rockefeller ranks one spot behind him on the committee.

Baucus has $3.1 million in cash on hand and seems poised to run. Rockefeller has only $827,000 in the bank, but Democratic leaders feel reassured by his ability to dip into his personal wealth to boost a campaign.

West Virginia, which has trended Republican in recent election cycles, would be a tough state for Democrats to defend. One GOP aide said Rep. Shelley Moore Capito (R) might have been eyeing Rockefeller’s seat when she passed on challenging Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.).

Levin reported $586,000 in cash on hand at the end of March, a relatively small amount for a committee chairman. But the amount is more than he raised at the same point in the 2008 election cycle.

A spokeswoman said Levin “is focused on his work serving the people of Michigan in the Senate right now and has not made a decision about 2014.”

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Lautenberg will be 90 years old on Election Day 2014 but says he intends to run.

He sent out a fundraising letter Monday criticizing Bain Capital, which seemed to send a message to Newark, N.J., Mayor Cory Booker, who on Sunday scolded Democrats for politicizing Mitt Romney’s record at the private-equity firm. One Democratic strategist said Monday that Booker could be a successor to Lautenberg.

Two senior Republican incumbents with modest fundraising totals, Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Thad Cochran (Miss.) and Sen. Pat Roberts (Kan.), represent states where Democrats have little hope of capturing a seat.

Roberts has already announced his plans to run for reelection. Cochran has not.

A spokesman for Cochran said his boss is focused on helping Republican candidates in 2012, adding “there is plenty of time” to raise money for 2014.

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