Third-quarter reports loom over earliest congressional primaries

With congressional primaries earlier than ever and numerous big-time primaries in the earliest states, the third-quarter fundraising report in the off-year takes on increasing importance in the 2008 cycle. Candidates in these and other races made their cases for viability as their third-quarter fundraising numbers trickled out on Monday.

A front-loaded presidential primary process has moved several states’ congressional primaries forward as early as February.

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Just hours after the quarter came to a close on Monday, it became clear that the money race in some of the earliest primaries is at full force.

In Maryland, where the primary is set for Feb. 12, third-quarter filings in the primaries against Reps. Albert Wynn (D) and Wayne Gilchrest (R) should show solid financial support for their primary opponents.

A spokesman for state Sen. Andy Harris’s (R) campaign against Gilchrest said the campaign is “still finalizing our numbers” but pulled in more than the $175,000 it raised in the second quarter. Gilchrest has never spent more than $450,000 on an entire election cycle.

Harris and Wynn’s opponent, Donna Edwards, both have gained significant endorsements in their primary campaigns. Edwards has a fundraiser scheduled for Oct. 16 at the home of the former ambassador to Portugal, Elizabeth Bagley.

Illinois moved its congressional primary up to Feb. 5, along with its presidential primary. A series of retirements in the state’s Republican delegation in recent months has made for potentially competitive primaries in nearly one-third of its 19 districts.

National GOP-recruited businessman Steve Greenberg will look to fend off primary challengers in Rep. Melissa Bean’s (D) district with his fundraising prowess.

Democrat Mark Pera is taking a far different approach. He has successfully tapped the netroots in his bid to defeat centrist Rep. Daniel Lipinski (D-Ill.). Pera has pulled in $55,000 in contributions on ActBlue, including $30,000 over the last 13 days of the quarter.

His campaign did not provide overall third-quarter numbers. Pera raised $55,000 in the second quarter.

Particularly interesting should be the money match-up between former Senate candidate and self-funder Jim Oberweis and state Sen. Chris Lauzen, the front-runners for the GOP nomination in Rep. Dennis Hastert’s (R-Ill.) district.

Three Democrats also are lined up for the race to succeed Hastert, the former Speaker who announced his retirement in August. Much less is known about the Democrats, but their third-quarter reports should provide some hints.

Races for the seats of retiring Reps. Ray LaHood (R-Ill.) and Jerry Weller (R-Ill.) are taking shape as well.

Other early-primary states include Texas and Ohio, both of which will hold contests March 4. Both are sure to contain a number of big primary battles.

In a budding Senate primary battle in Texas, Afghanistan veteran and state Rep. Rick Noriega (D) raised $570,000 in the second quarter. Noriega, a favorite of the netroots community, is facing wealthy attorney Mikal Watts in the primary for the right to face Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas).

Watts has plugged $7.5 million of his fortune into his campaign.

In a later primary in California, Republican Mike Holmes is not yet showing evidence of his commitment to significantly increase his fundraising in his repeat primary bid against Rep. John Doolittle (R). Holmes said he only began his fundraising in earnest this past week and has raised just $20,000.

Iraq veteran Eric Egland (R) is also in the race, and state Rep. Ted Gaines (R) is considering it as well.

Similarly, Onslow County Commissioner Joe McLaughlin (R), Rep. Walter Jones’s (R-N.C.) primary opponent, raised only $24,000 and has about $35,000 cash on hand, according to a campaign source. The source said fundraising would likely pick up this month.

In Colorado, the race for the open seat being left by Rep. Mark Udall (D) is getting expensive in a hurry.

State Senate President Joan Fitz-Gerald (D) will report raising more than $360,000 in the third quarter, a 50 percent increase over the second quarter, while businessman Jared Polis’s (D) campaign said he will top his $305,000 second-quarter haul, according to The Denver Post.

Polis, a multimillionaire, contributed an additional $140,000 to his own campaign in the second quarter. A third Democrat, Will Shafroth, is also in the race.

Among Senate races, comedian Al Franken isn’t likely to out-raise Sen. Norm Coleman (R-Minn.), as he did last quarter. A campaign source, however, said Franken raised “at least $1.8 million” — a number very similar to the $1.9 million figure that trumped Coleman’s second-quarter haul.

Coleman’s third-quarter total will be bolstered by an August fundraiser with President Bush.

Franken must win a primary first, though. Attorney Mike Ciresi (D), who raised about $750,000 in the second quarter, did not release third-quarter figures on Monday.

In Kentucky, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R) continues to build one of the biggest campaign war chests in the country, netting about $1.5 million in the third quarter to bring his total raised since he was last elected, in 2002, to over $9 million and his cash-on-hand total to $6.8 million.

McConnell doesn’t yet have a big-name opponent, but he has drawn the opposition of several advertising campaigns and remains a Democratic target. State Attorney General Greg Stumbo has formed an exploratory committee for the race.

Democrat Larry LaRocco, who is running for the seat of Sen. Larry Craig (R-Idaho), raised more than $100,000 in the third quarter. Craig appears unlikely to run for reelection after pleading guilty in connection with a sex sting in a Minneapolis airport restroom.

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