Challengers Bruning, Ciresi, Swett turn in strong fundraising quarters

Several challengers began to assert themselves with strong fundraising in the second quarter, while incumbents who raised millions in previous quarters continued to build their war chests to ward off significant opposition.

For many challengers, the second quarter was the first full quarter of fundraising. For others, it will be the first quarterly filing and the initial test of their viability, 16 months before the 2008 election.

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Meanwhile, in what is sure to stoke retirement rumors, Sen. Thad Cochran’s (R-Miss.) fundraising dropped off significantly from the first quarter. According to his office, he raised just $275,000 — less than half the $630,000 he raised in the first three months of the year.

Cochran’s spokeswoman sought to defuse any retirement talk.

“Senator Cochran has said many times that he is making plans to run for reelection and that he will make a formal announcement in the fall,” spokeswoman Margaret McPhillips said. “He currently has plenty of money in his campaign coffers to run a viable statewide election in Mississippi.”

Among the top challengers releasing figures yesterday were New Hampshire Democrat Katrina Swett, Nebraska Attorney General Jon Bruning (R) and Minnesota attorney Mike Ciresi (D), each of whom raised about $700,000 for the quarter, according to their campaigns.

Swett raised about $700,000 for the quarter and about $1.1 million so far this cycle. Bruning pulled in more than $720,000 for a possible primary challenge to Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.). And Ciresi took in at least $735,000 for a contested primary in which the winner likely will face Sen. Norm Coleman (R-Minn.).

Swett’s total trumps Sen. John Sununu’s (R-N.H.) first-quarter take of about $550,000 and figures to help in her bid to convince a hesitant Democratic establishment to embrace her candidacy. Democrats still are trying to recruit former Gov. Jeanne Shaheen (D), who lost narrowly to Sununu in 2002 but leads him by 28 points in a poll released last week.
Swett has ties to Washington as the daughter of Rep. Tom Lantos (D-Calif.) and the wife of former Rep. Dick Swett (D-N.H.).

Portsmouth Mayor Steve Marchand (D) continues to lag far behind Swett. His campaign said it expects a similar quarter to the first, in which it raised $100,000.

Sununu had $1.2 million cash on hand after the first quarter.

Bruning is the only Hagel challenger to fully to enter the race, but he could have company. Former Rep. Hal Daub (R) is “testing the waters,” and businessman Tony Raimondo (R) said he is putting together his organization and has not started raising money yet.

Hagel has not decided whether to run for reelection, run for the presidency or retire. But campaign spokesman Kevin Chapman said he raised “well beyond” Bruning’s $720,000 after pulling in a paltry $140,000 in the first.

Ciresi, who self-funded the majority of his 2000 Senate bid, raised his total in just two months and without more than the maximum individual contributions ($4,600) by himself and his wife, said spokeswoman Leslie Sandberg. He has spent just more than $100,000 and has $625,000 on hand.

But Ciresi’s take is likely to be a distant second in the Minnesota Democratic field. Comedian Al Franken (D) was not releasing figures yesterday, but a spokeswoman said the campaign tripled its fundraising base from the first quarter to more than 30,000 donors, and she wouldn’t discount a suggestion that Franken might out-raise Coleman.

Coleman’s campaign said yesterday that it brought in more than $1.5 million for the second straight quarter and has more than $3.8 million on hand. Franken raised $1.4 million in the first quarter.

Another challenger with something to prove was Oregon Democrat Steve Novick, who remains the standard-bearer as other Democrats have passed on a challenge to Sen. Gordon Smith (R). Novick took in $190,000 in the second quarter.

Novick compared the number to other recent statewide challengers and called it “a clear signal that we are well on our way.”

Like Coleman, Smith has one of the biggest reelection accounts in the 2008 class. He had more than $2.8 million in cash after the first quarter but did not release second-quarter figures yesterday.

In South Dakota, late-quarter help from Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) and former Sen. Tom Daschle (D-S.D.) helped recovering Sen. Tim Johnson (D) near a goal of $600,000 in the closing hours of the June 30 deadline, according to an e-mail to supporters.

Kerry and Daschle both sent fundraising e-mails for the senator, who suffered a brain hemorrhage last year. Johnson, a top GOP target, raised $665,000 in the first quarter with help from his colleagues and has no major opposition yet.
Kerry raised $1.2 million for the quarter and now has more than $11 million cash on hand thanks to a large transfer from his presidential campaign.

Along with Cochran’s, the fundraising reports of Sens. John Warner (R-Va.), Larry Craig (R-Idaho) and Pete Domenici (R-N.M.) will draw particular scrutiny in the coming weeks as speculation about their possible retirements linger.

Warner raised less than $1,500 last quarter and Craig brought in just $125,000, while Domenici raised $400,000.
Domenici has said he plans to run. Warner and Craig have been less definitive.

Warner’s report will again be small.

“I have consistently stated I will refrain from fundraising activities until I make my decision this coming September to seek reelection in 2008,” Warner said in a statement.