Sen. Herb Kohl (D-Wis.) sent a strong message when the first fundraising reports of the year were filed Monday, making it clear with a $1 million campaign loan that he will seek re-election.
But others on retirement watch, including Sens. Daniel Akaka (D-Hawaii), Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) and Jim Webb (D-Va.), offered no indication they will run again in 2012.
Akaka, 86, raised less than $2,000 in the fourth quarter and had just $66,000 in the bank as of Dec. 31, though he had similar numbers to start his 2006 re-election campaign. Webb raised about $13,000, leaving Democrats hoping that at best he has yet to make up his mind. Kylís year-end report was not publicly available at press time, keeping speculation about his potential retirement on the front burner.
The fundraising figures for Oct. 1 to Dec. 31 offered the first evidence of how well-prepared 33 Senators and their potential challengers are for the long slog ahead. So far there have been three retirements, and several top Republican recruits are already stepping up to challenge Democratic incumbents, including Sen. Claire McCaskill (Mo.), who began this year with a $905,000 campaign chest.
But it is just the beginning of a 22-month campaign that will be molded by external factors such as the economy and the downballot effect of the presidential election and by internal factors such as retirements, recruitment, primaries and fundraising.
Webb remains one of the biggest unknowns of the 2012 cycle, with insiders from both parties left guessing what he will do. Webb emphasized to reporters last week that this was an eight-year commitment, and that his plan remains to have a decision by March 31. He could face a rematch with former Sen. George Allen (Va.), who has already declared his candidacy but must first get through a GOP primary.
If Akaka runs, he could face former Gov. Linda Lingle (R), whose past fundraising abilities and election success would make it a tough race in Democratic-leaning Hawaii.
Polling continues to indicate that Sen. Ben Nelson (Neb.), another potential retiree, could be in trouble. But the second-term Democrat raised $81,000 in the fourth quarter and has almost $1.5 million in the bank. No fundraising numbers were available for top Republican candidate Jon Bruning, the state attorney general, who did not file a statement of organization until last month.
Kyl, the Minority Whip, would be an early favorite for re-election if he decides to run. But should he opt out, attention would immediately turn to Rep. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), who reported $628,000 in cash on hand. And Democrats would no doubt step up their efforts to recruit a top-tier candidate if it opens up.