Challengers’ Challenge

by Nathan L. Gonzales July 13, 2008 · 12:05 AM EDT

Some Democratic Senate candidates have serious fundraising work to do to be in a position to win this fall.

As second-quarter Federal Election Commission numbers trickle in, it’s helpful to look at the six successful Democratic challengers from 2006 for context. All six of those Democrats raised more than $5 million in that cycle, and each spent at least half of what the GOP incumbent spent against them.

In Ohio, then-Rep. Sherrod Brown spent almost $10.8 million (approximately 76 percent of incumbent Sen. Mike DeWine’s spending). Claire McCaskill spent $11.7 million (82 percent of then-Sen. Jim Talent’s total) in Missouri, Bob Casey spent $17.6 million

(68 percent of then-Sen. Rick Santorum’s figure) in Pennsylvania, and Jon Tester spent $5.6 million (66 percent of then-Sen. Conrad Burns’ total) in Montana.

Virginia’s Jim Webb had the lowest percentage of spending among the six successful Democratic Senate challengers in that cycle (53 percent of then-Sen. George Allen’s total), and he still spent $8.6 million.

Sheldon Whitehouse actually outspent incumbent Sen. Lincoln Chafee spent in Rhode Island.

So how do this year’s Democratic challengers stack up?

A couple of candidates are in good shape, at least on the fundraising front. Through May 21, Maine Rep. Tom Allen (D) raised $3.9 million, giving him 72 percent of Sen. Susan Collins’ (R) total raised. And in Minnesota, comedian Al Franken (D) actually outraised Sen. Norm Coleman (R), $9.4 million to $8.7 million through March 31.

The rest of the class is further behind.

Oregon Speaker Jeff Merkley (D) raised $1.9 million through April 30, about 38 percent of Sen. Gordon Smith’s (R) fundraising. Anchorage Mayor Mark Begich (D) raised $267,000 through March 31, putting him at 13 percent of Sen. Ted Stevens’ (R) total raised in Alaska.

In North Carolina, state Sen. Kay Hagan (D) raised 22 percent ($1.5 million) of Sen. Elizabeth Dole’s (R) take ($6.7 million) through April 16, though she announced on Wednesday that she collected $1.6 million from April 17 to June 30. In Mississippi, former Gov. Ronnie Musgrove (D) raised $449,000 through March 31, giving him 14 percent of appointed Sen. Roger Wicker’s (R) total at the end of March. In Kentucky, wealthy health care executive Bruce Lunsford (D) raised $1.5 million through April 30, 17 percent of the total taken in by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R).

Through March 31, Rick Noriega (D), having taken in 16 percent of Republican Sen. John Cornyn’s total in Texas; Andrew Rice (D), who had 30 percent of Republican Sen. James Inhofe’s total in Oklahoma; and Jim Slattery (D), who had 9 percent of Republican Sen. Pat Roberts’ total, also trailed the incumbents’ fundraising by wide margins.

Some of the Democrats chose to get into these races late and could receive plenty of money in the final months of the campaign, but the incumbents will be raising money as well. And some will get help from the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, which will have far more money to spend than the National Republican Senatorial Committee come fall.

On the Republican side, state Treasurer John Kennedy is the lone GOP challenger with a shot at unseating an incumbent. Through March 31, he raised $1.9 million, about 35 percent of Sen. Mary Landrieu’s (D) figure. Kennedy added an additional $1.5 million in the second quarter.

Matching the incumbent’s spending doesn’t guarantee success. Last cycle in Arizona, real estate developer Jim Pederson (D) nearly matched Sen. Jon Kyl (R) in spending — thanks mostly to his ability to self-fund — and still lost, 53 percent to 44 percent.