Candidates Up Spending

Posted July 15, 2008 at 6:48pm

It’s getting to that point in the campaign cycle where impressive fundraising totals are starting to be matched by equally eye-popping campaign spending.

As the second quarter Federal Election Commission filing deadline passed on Tuesday, both Democratic and Republican Senate operatives were touting their candidates’ fundraising successes, pointing to several races where the contenders had multimillion-dollar quarters.

But in a sign that the campaign season has truly kicked into high gear, a few Senate campaigns also reported millions of dollars in disbursements from April 1 to June 30.

In the battleground open-seat race in Colorado, Rep. Mark Udall (D) took in about $2.04 million during the second quarter, giving him almost $4 million in cash on hand as of June 30. But Udall also spent $2.3 million over the past three months.

During the same period, Udall’s Republican opponent, former Rep. Bob Schaffer, raised $1.4 million and spent $775,000. He reported $2.8 million in the bank on June 30.

On Tuesday, Schaffer’s campaign manager, Dick Wadhams, sent out a release taking note of the fact that Udall had spent more than he brought in last quarter. Wadhams said that kind of spending-to-fundraising ratio shows that Udall’s campaign is “politically and financially bleeding.”

But Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee spokesman Matthew Miller said Udall’s spending is an indication of the strength of his position in the Centennial State open-seat contest.

“There’s a point in a campaign where you start spending more than you raise, and it’s different for every campaign,” Miller said. “Udall had such an advantage going into this quarter that he could do that.”

Miller said that by going up with a strong television ad buy early, Udall took advantage of a time when he largely wouldn’t be competing with presidential news coverage. That media strategy was a big part of the reason Udall led Schaffer by 9 points in a late-June poll sponsored by the DSCC, Miller said. A more recent independent poll had him ahead by the same margin.

North Carolina Sen. Elizabeth Dole (R) also spent heavily during the second quarter. Television ads made up a large portion of Dole’s $2.1 million in disbursements during a quarter in which she raised $1.7 million. She reported $2.7 million in cash on hand at the end of June.

Dole, the 2006 chairwoman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, is in her first re-election campaign against state Sen. Kay Hagan (D) in a race that Democrats say is only becoming more competitive.

Hagan closed the fundraising gap significantly during the second quarter. After reporting just $317,000 in cash on hand at the end of March, Hagan had $1.2 million in the bank at the end of June after raising $1.5 million during the second quarter.

Farther west, in the open-seat clash taking place in New Mexico, Rep. Steve Pearce (R) reported raising $1.2 million during the second quarter. He spent $1.5 million and ended the quarter with $532,000 in cash on hand. Democratic Rep. Tom Udall raised $2.1 million for the quarter and finished June with $2.9 million on hand.

Another Republican who outspent his fundraising numbers during the second quarter is former Virginia Gov. Jim Gilmore, who spent $572,000 from April 1 to June 30 while bringing in $480,000. Gilmore ended the quarter with just $117,000 in the bank.

Those anemic numbers will do little to lift Republican hopes of keeping the open seat of retiring Sen. John Warner in the GOP column. Gilmore’s opponent, wealthy former Gov. Mark Warner (D), has proved himself to be a fundraising machine. During the second quarter, he raised $2.9 million and spent $2.2 million. He still had $5.1 million in the bank at the end of June.

But in other closely watched Senate races around the country, fundraising battles were a little less one-sided.

In Louisiana, where state Treasurer John Kennedy is the GOP challenger with the best chance of unseating an incumbent this cycle, fundraising numbers were nearly even during the second quarter with both camps reporting about $1.5 million raised. But second-term Sen. Mary Landrieu (D) is expected to report $5.4 million in cash on hand, about twice Kennedy’s $2.7 million.

The NRSC, which has been hammering Landrieu since before Kennedy even joined the race, was clearly pleased with his fundraising performance.

“Even with the built-in advantages of incumbency for Mary Landrieu, and after out-raising her last quarter, John Kennedy was able to keep pace with Landrieu this quarter,” NRSC spokeswoman Rebecca Fisher said on Tuesday. “Mary Landrieu’s claims of seniority aren’t helping her get things done — or helping her raise money.”

Miller said that “other than the ability to raise money, John Kennedy has still shown nothing as a challenger” and pointed to Kennedy’s party switch last year as a key reason voters won’t take him seriously at the polls this fall.

In the tight Senate race shaping up in the North Star State, Sen. Norm Coleman (R) barely outraised his Democratic challenger, comedian Al Franken, during the second quarter.

Coleman raised $2.35 million during the second quarter and reported $7.2 million in cash on hand. Meanwhile, Franken took in $2.33 million from April to June and reported $4.2 million in cash on hand.

Franken will have to get through a primary challenge after attorney Priscilla Lord Faris (D) filed this week, but he should cruise to the Democratic nomination. A much tougher challenge for Franken would have been if former Minnesota Gov. Jesse Ventura (I) had joined the race. But after a week of frenzied speculation, Ventura took a pass on the race on Monday. However, former Sen. Dean Barkley filed for the race as an Independent on Tuesday afternoon.

Even farther north, in Alaska, where Democrats are targeting embattled Sen. Ted Stevens (R), Anchorage Mayor Mark Begich raised $1.03 million for the quarter and ended June with $804,000 in cash on hand. Stevens’ numbers were not available Tuesday evening.

Meanwhile in New Hampshire, another vulnerable incumbent, Sen. John Sununu (R), was outraised by his challenger, former Gov. Jeanne Shaheen (D).

Shaheen took in $1.6 million over the past three months, while Sununu was expected to show $1.1 million in fundraising, according to news reports.

But with more than $5 million in the bank, Sununu still holds a commanding cash-on-hand lead over Shaheen, who ended June with $2.1 million on hand.

In Maine, Sen. Susan Collins (R) barely outraised Rep. Tom Allen (D) during the second quarter. Collins brought in $1.06 million between April 1 and June 30 to Allen’s $1 million. But Collins still holds a significant cash-on-hand lead with $5.1 million in the bank to Allen’s $3.1 million.

In the Beaver State Senate race, where Oregon Speaker Jeff Merkley (D) is hoping to knock off Sen. Gordon Smith (R), the second-term incumbent raised $1.35 million during the second quarter and had $4.47 million in cash on hand. According to a news release, Merkley, who won the Democratic nomination in late May, raised $1.4 million for the quarter and had $569,000 on hand.

Miller said the DSCC has been pleased with its candidates’ strong performance during the second quarter.

“Across the country, we’re largely running challenger races,” he said. “And across the board, our challengers have done extremely well, from both Udalls raising over $2 million to Begich topping the $1 million mark to Franken topping $2 million. … It was a successful quarter all around.”

But NRSC spokeswoman Fisher said Republicans also put themselves in a strong financial position over the past three months.

Republicans “are having great success raising the money they need to get their message out to voters, and I believe this success signals voters’ frustrations with Democrats over their inaction on issues such as gas prices,” she said.