Senate: What the Money Says

By Jim Ellis

July 20, 2017 — Though electronic filing is still not yet required for US Senate candidates, several incumbents and challengers have made their financial numbers available via the public media. Outlets such as the Daily Kos Elections page, The Hill, Politico, National Journal, and local news organizations have allowed us to grasp where some of the key races stand financially.

There has already been a great deal of discussion in recent days about the upcoming Arizona Senate contest, and the dollars raised again reveal a familiar pattern. For the second quarter in a row, Rep. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Phoenix), who says she is not an active Senate candidate but is clearly readying herself in case an opportunity arises, i.e., incumbent Sen. Jeff Flake (R) attracting a strong Republican primary opponent, again raised $600,000 in a quarter, thus putting $3.2 million in her account, about $200,000 more than incumbent Flake.

Finances often give us clues as to impending political moves. California Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D), the body’s oldest member at 84 years of age, raised just $600,000 in the second quarter and has $3.5 million in the bank. This is a low total for a senator from the nation’s largest state. This may be an indication that Feinstein may not seek re-election. In direct comparison, 83-year-old Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT), who has been less committal about re-election than Sen. Feinstein and from a state a small fraction of California’s size, raised over $1 million in the quarter and has over $4 million cash-on-hand.

In further comparison, senators from much smaller states raised far more than California’s senior incumbent. Sen. Christopher Murphy (D-CT), from a place just one-tenth the size of California and not facing strong competition, raised $2 million and maintains a campaign treasury of better than $5 million. Florida Sen. Bill Nelson, in a major state and entering what will become a tough re-election campaign, yet still just one-half the size of California, came in with virtually the same financial totals as Sen. Murphy, and both much higher than Sen. Feinstein.

Another senator who will be in one of the toughest re-election battles, Missouri’s Claire McCaskill (D), brought in $3.1 million in the quarter and also has more than $5 million in the bank. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH), facing a difficult re-match battle with state Treasurer Josh Mandel (R), also broke the $2 million mark for the quarter, and has almost $7 million in his campaign account. Mandel has a respectable $3.3 million raised for the campaign including an impressive $1.7 million for the quarter, a good overall amount for a challenger at this point in time, but still only half of the resources that Sen. Brown commands.

There has also been increased attention paid to the Michigan Senate campaign, where three-term Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D) will be on the ballot next year. She is very active on the fundraising circuit, bringing in $2.1 million with almost $6 million on hand waiting for Republican candidates to come forward. Michigan former state Supreme Court Chief Justice Robert Young (R) and Trump state co-chair Lena Epstein have already announced. Businessman John James is likely to soon join the field, while Rep. Fred Upton (R-St. Joseph) continues to say he is considering becoming a statewide candidate.

The national candidates are in a category by themselves. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) has more than $11 million in her campaign account, while former vice presidential nominee Tim Kaine (D-VA) has well over $7 million in preparation for his impending re-election battle. Senator and former presidential candidate Bernie Sanders’ (I-VT) report has not yet been published.

New candidate Jackie Rosen of Nevada, who just recently announced her challenge to Sen. Dean Heller (R), has only $400,000-plus in her campaign kitty. This contrasts to more than $3.5 million for Heller.

Finally, in the Alabama special election with the primary election coming up next month, two of the top contenders have virtually the same financial line. Appointed Sen. Luther Strange (R) and Rep. Mo Brooks (R-Huntsville) both have in the neighborhood of $1.5 million in the bank, well beyond former state Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore’s $360,000-plus.

In today’s political age with so much money coming in the form of independent expenditures, individual candidate fundraising may less important than in previous times. But, the early activity level still provides us with key clues pertaining to campaign development.

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