Challengers vacuum up campaign money

Senate challengers in battleground states raked in bundles of campaign cash in the third quarter of the year, pointing to growing discontent with incumbents and suggesting that next year’s races will be as intense as ever.

Senate challengers in battleground states raked in bundles of campaign cash in the third quarter of the year, pointing to growing discontent with incumbents and suggesting that next year’s races will be as intense as ever.

The steady flow of donations came despite Hurricane Katrina, which led many campaigns to cancel fundraisers and suspend direct-mail and Internet solicitations.

In Pennsylvania, Democratic state Treasurer Bob Casey topped Sen. Rick Santorum (R), raising $2 million and ending the July 1-Sept. 30 quarter with $3 million in the bank.

Santorum raised only $1.7 million but maintained a considerable cash-on-hand advantage, with $6.6 million stowed away for the upcoming race.

Santorum’s media consultant, John Brabender, said the senator canceled fundraisers in Texas and an event with Vice President Cheney in Pennsylvania in the wake of the hurricane. Brabender estimated the cancellations cost the campaign $1 million.

In Rhode Island, former state Attorney General Sheldon Whitehouse, seeking the Democratic nomination to challenge Sen. Lincoln Chafee (R), reeled in more than $600,000, leaving him with nearly $1.4 million on hand.

Meanwhile, Cranston, R.I., Mayor Steven Laffey, challenging Chafee in a GOP primary, raised $743,000, of which approximately $360,000 was a loan from Laffey to the campaign. The Republican challenger has a little less than $600,000 in the bank.

Chafee’s campaign did not release any figures yesterday, four days before the Oct. 15 deadline for filing third-quarter reports to the Federal Election Commission. The senator, in his first term, raised $405,000 in the second quarter, ending with $1.1 million on hand.

Chafee’s campaign manager, Ian Lang, said Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez would be attending a fundraiser Oct. 28. U.S. Ambassador to Canada and former Massachusetts Gov. Paul Cellucci (R) also will headline a Chafee event in the coming months.

And in Washington state, Safeco CEO Mike McGavick took in $710,000 for the quarter. The Republican, who has yet to enter the race officially and will remain chairman of Safeco’s board until the end of the year, has $660,000 in his campaign coffers.

Afton Swift, a campaign coordinator for the McGavick Exploratory Committee, added that McGavick has not ruled out spending his own fortune on the race. McGavick formed the exploratory committee in late July.

Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), who won her first term, in 2000, with 49 percent of the vote did not release any fundraising figures. The senator raised approximately $1.6 million in the last quarter, finishing the period with more than $3 million on hand.

The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC) appears to have tapped into mounting frustration with the GOP-controlled White House and Congress, surpassing the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC) in fundraising.

The DSCC has more cash on hand at this point in the cycle than it has ever had at the equivalent point in earlier cycles, the committee’s spokesman, Phil Singer, said in a statement.

Also, the DSCC has a 2-to-1 cash-on-hand advantage over the NRSC, Singer said. NRSC spokesman Brian Nick did not return messages.

Democratic pollster Celinda Lake echoed fellow Democrats in the nation’s capital, saying a “culture of corruption” had permeated the Republican leadership.

Lake added, however, that anti-incumbent sentiment runs the distinct risk of hurting Democrats, too, “particularly if the Democrats don’t get more out on the whole idea of reform.”

Lake, who is advising several Democrats in potentially competitive House races next year, added that Democrats are “trying to do that, but I think we need to do much more. … More on lobbying reform, junket reform — whatever.”

Fundraising numbers from the third quarter indicate that anti-incumbent sentiment, if that is what it is, may not have penetrated all corners of the electoral map.

Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) raised $1.2 million in the third quarter, bringing her cash on hand to $4.7 million, far more than the roughly $500,000 Keith Butler, the Republican pastor and former Detroit city councilman challenging Stabenow, raised in the same period.

In Florida, Sen. Bill Nelson (D) maintains a clear edge over Rep. Katherine Harris (R). While Harris only launched her fundraising effort a few weeks ago and suspended activity after Katrina struck, supporters have touted her as a fundraising magnet.

And in Minnesota, Rep. Mark Kennedy (R), seeking the seat being vacated by Sen. Mark Dayton (D), has continued raising money at a rapid clip: The third-term congressman raised $800,000 in the third quarter, ending with $1.5 million on hand.

Republicans have been quick to tamp down talk of anti-incumbent sentiment. And they say that, anger with President Bush or congressional leaders aside, individual GOP members are in good shape.

Meeting with reporters last week, Rep. Tom Reynolds, chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC), noted that political analyst Charlie Cook identified 106 competitive races in 1994, compared to 27 in 2006.

Reynolds added that embattled former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (Tex.) would not be a liability for Republicans next year. Referring to campaign money DeLay had raised for members, Reynolds said members would have to decide on their own whether to return those donations. “I just don’t see that as a factor,” he said.

Lake said Republicans in suburban and upscale districts would face tough challenges, in particular Reps. Dave Reichert (Wash.) and, possibly, Heather Wilson (N.M.). Lake works for Democrats either running or considering running against those Republicans.