In the first April quarterly reports ever filed in the year before an election, six Senators raised better than $1 million, a reflection of the anticipated absence of national party spending under new campaign finance laws.
Although no direct comparisons are available for past cycles, 16 of the 33 Senators running for re-election in the 2002 cycle had raised more than $1 million at the end of June 2001. The 33 incumbents had raised just over $36 million total in that report. The 28 Senators running in 2004, who had filed reports by press time, raised $17.3 million through March.
The reports covered contributions and disbursements from Jan. 1 to March 31. In years past, candidates only had to file every six months during the off year.
Despite the change, the new reports saw the continuation of some familiar trends.
Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) again led his colleagues in both funds raised and cash on hand, raking in more than $1.5 million and banking $15 million.
Schumer has no announced opponent, and the two Republican heavyweights in the state — former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani and Gov. George Pataki — are viewed as extremely unlikely to run.
Secretary of State Randy Daniels (R), who is black, has filed for statewide office though he has refused to say which race he is interested in.
In the event Schumer draws no serious challenge there is likely to be pressure on him from national Democrats to use his huge cash total to aid other endangered incumbents or top-tier challengers.
Republican Sens. Arlen Specter (Pa.) and Richard Shelby (Ala.) also delivered strong fundraising totals.
Shelby, who switched parties in 1994, raised $1.5 million in the period and ended March with $7.9 million on hand. Democrats are not expected to seriously contest the seat.
Specter had another torrid fundraising quarter with $1.45 million raised, bringing his available cash to $7 million.
Specter will face Rep. Pat Toomey in a Republican primary. During the filing period, Toomey raised $411,000 while retaining $1 million in his bank account.
Democrats have no announced candidates in the race.
Others raising better than $1 million in the period included Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.), Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) and Harry Reid (D-Nev.). Only wealthy Illinois businessman Blair Hull (D) and Rep. Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.) topped $1 million raised among the non-incumbents seeking Senate seats.
On the opposite end of the fundraising spectrum were several Senators widely rumored to be contemplating retirement.
Leading that list is Sen. Fritz Hollings (D-S.C.), who raised just $6,000 in the period, although he ended March with $912,000 on hand.
Hollings’ lack of campaign activity coupled with the recent death of his daughter clearly worries Democrats hoping that the Senator will re-up for an eighth term.
Hollings did hold a Washington fundraiser on March 13 that was estimated to have netted $20,000 by knowledgeable sources, but those funds did not show up on his report.
Already several Palmetto State Republicans have announced their intentions to run regardless of Hollings’ decision.
The GOP field is led by Rep. Jim DeMint, who after being roundly panned for his fundraising efforts last year bounced back by raising a respectable $385,000 in the first three months of 2003.
Former state Attorney General Charlie Condon and Myrtle Beach Mayor Mark McBride are expected to run but did not file reports with the Federal Election Commission. Charleston land developer Thomas Ravenel is another potential GOP candidate.
Sen. John Breaux (D-La.) also did little to dispel retirement rumors, raising $194,000 in the period. Breaux has more than $1 million in his campaign account, however, and if he does decide to seek a fourth term is not likely to draw strong opposition.
Both Sens. Bob Graham (Fla.) and John Edwards (N.C.), who are pursuing the Democratic presidential nomination, raised little for their Senate accounts. Neither has announced his re-election plans.
Among Republicans, only Sen. Don Nickles’ (Okla.) fundraising totals were cause for concern.
Nickles raised $55,000 in the first three months of 2003 and had $438,000 left to spend.
He said last month that he would likely make a decision on his political future almost exactly one year from now.
Nickles was in the middle of the budget brouhaha that arose when Senate Republicans signed off on a $350 billion tax cut, angering their House colleagues, who favored a much larger tax cut.
Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell (R-Colo.) kept observers guessing by raising $384,000 in the period and banking $343,000. Campbell’s cash-on-hand total was better than only Sens. Bob Bennett (R-Utah), Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii).
Meanwhile, McCain dispelled rumors that he would not seek another term by raising $1.1 million, bringing his on-hand total to $871,000. Nearly $1 million came from a Feb. 20 fundraiser in Phoenix.
McCain’s strong showing may discourage Rep. Jeff Flake from making a much-discussed primary challenge to the maverick Senator.
Although Flake signaled his interest in the race in late February, his fundraising left much to be desired. He raised only $12,000 in the quarter with $153,000 left on hand.
Other targeted incumbents like Boxer, Reid and Sens. Kit Bond (R-Mo.), Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.) and Tom Daschle (D-S.D.) posted strong numbers in hopes of warding off a serious challenge.
Democrats have so far been unable to convince a candidate to run against Bond; Republicans continue to express optimism about their chances of convincing Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee (R) to take on Lincoln. Former Rep. Asa Hutchinson (R-Ark.) is also mentioned as a possible candidate.
In South Dakota, Daschle’s haul is part of an effort to raise and spend $10 million on his re-election. Former Rep. John Thune (R-S.D.), who lost to Sen. Tim Johnson (D) by 524 votes in 2002, is contemplating the race.
Sens. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) and Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.) refused to provide their quarterly reports despite the fact they were due at the FEC last Tuesday.
Murkowski was appointed by her father, former Sen. and now-Alaska Gov. Frank Murkowski (R), after he won the state’s top post last November.
Democrats believe the controversy surrounding her ascension into office coupled with the possibility of a candidacy by former Alaska Gov. Tony Knowles (D) make Murkowski one of the most vulnerable Republicans up in 2004.
Dorgan faces the possibility of a race against former North Dakota Gov. Ed Schafer (R).
Sara Faiwell contributed to this report.