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Fundraising Close for 7 Seats

Democratic Senate candidates in four of their party’s five Southern open seats largely fought their Republican rivals to a fundraising draw in the fourth quarter of 2003, financial reports filed this week with the Federal Election Commission show.

In the two Republican-held open seats in Illinois and Oklahoma, Democrats outraised their GOP opponents in the last three months of the year.

The seven open-seat contests are the epicenter for the fight for control of the Senate, as few incumbents on either side of the aisle are in serious jeopardy.

Reports covering contributions and expenditures from Oct. 1 to Dec. 31 were due at the FEC on Jan. 31.

Among open-seat candidates, the most impressive performance came from 2002 North Carolina Senate nominee Erskine Bowles (D), who raised $2.1 million in the three-month period — greater than all but one of the 27 Senators standing for re-election and all other Senate contenders except a self-funding Democratic candidate in Illinois.

Bowles’ opponent, Rep. Richard Burr (R-N.C.), brought in $1.3 million and raised $5.8 million total in 2003.

Bowles never really closed the statewide fundraising network he used to pull in $13 million (almost $7 million of which was his own) in his race against now-Sen. Elizabeth Dole (R-N.C.) last cycle.

He is also one of the few Senate candidates with built-in connections to donors all over the country due to his time as chief of staff to then-President Bill Clinton.

The fourth quarter was Bowles’ first full three months in the fundraising arena this cycle, however, while Burr has been raising and stockpiling money for months.

That disparity is reflected in the candidates’ cash-on-hand totals; Burr banked $5 million at year’s end compared with Bowles’ $1.9 million.

In neighboring South Carolina, state Superintendent of Education Inez Tenenbaum (D) led the four Republican candidates in fundraising in the final three months of the year.

Tenenbaum collected $538,000 for the race, bringing her cash-on-hand total to $678,000 through Dec. 31.

Rep. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) led in fundraising among Republicans with $421,000 raised and was at the top of the cash-on-hand pile among all candidates with $1.3 million.

Former state Attorney General Charlie Condon’s (R) money-gathering pace slowed significantly in the period, as he raised roughly half of the $411,000 he took in from July 1 to Sept. 30. Condon showed a solid $993,000 in the bank at year’s end, however.

Neither developer Thomas Ravenel (R) nor Myrtle Beach Mayor Mark McBride (R) kept up with DeMint and Condon.

Ravenel raised $69,000 with $130,000 on hand, though he has considerable personal wealth and may write a major check prior to the June 8 primary. He has already loaned his campaign $1 million.

The fifth major Republican in the race, former Gov. David Beasley, did not actively raise money in the last three months of 2003.

Tenenbaum is likely to benefit from a costly primary and runoff among the Republican candidates, but Palmetto State voters clearly lean toward the GOP in federal races, making this one of Democrats’ most difficult holds.

In Louisiana, by contrast, Republicans haven’t won a Senate seat since Reconstruction.

Rep. David Vitter (R) is hoping to change that historic trend, and his strong fundraising pace bodes well in that effort.

Vitter raised $440,000 in the fourth quarter, roughly $100,000 more than Rep. Chris John, the leading candidate on the Democratic side. State Treasurer John Kennedy (D) formally entered the race Tuesday but has not begun raising money.

Vitter held a $1.8 million to $1.1 million cash-on-hand edge over John at the end of the year; the strong support of retiring Sen. John Breaux (D-La.) is likely to boost John to a huge first fundraising quarter of 2004.

Florida’s open-seat race remains a wide-open struggle as a variety of candidates continue to gather huge sums in advance of the Aug. 31 party primaries.

Two Republicans, Judicial Watch founder Larry Klayman ($875,000) and state House Speaker Johnnie Byrd ($786,000), led the seven-candidate field in fundraising for the quarter, while two Democrats — Rep. Peter Deutsch ($3.9 million) and Miami-Dade Mayor Alex Penelas ($1.7 million) — had the most left to spend.

On the Republican side, Byrd carried $1.2 million on hand, roughly $400,000 more than former Rep. Bill McCollum.

Former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Mel Martinez (R), seen as the favored candidate of the White House, did not file a financial report because he entered the race only recently. State Sen. Daniel Webster (R) had a disappointing showing with $324,000 raised and $318,000 on hand.

Deutsch continued his torrid fundraising pace, bringing in $751,000 in October, November and December; former state Education Commissioner Betty Castor (D), considered the favorite in the Democratic primary, reported $431,000 in contributions, while Penelas had $366,000 in donations.

The good financial news in Southern Democratic seats comes to an abrupt end when examining the fundraising numbers for the Georgia Senate race.

The campaign of state Sen. Mary Squires, the lone Democrat in the race, estimated that she had raised $20,000 in the fourth quarter, although her FEC report was not available at press time.

Democrats have repeatedly failed to lure a high-profile candidate into the race and with the April 30 filing deadline looming seem to have few leads. At this point, a self-funding candidate seems to be the only plausible option for Georgia Democrats to be competitive in November.

Republicans have not faced the same recruiting problems in the Peach State.

Pizza magnate Herman Cain (R) raised $1.1 million for the period, $700,000 of which came in the form of a personal loan. Reps. Johnny Isakson ($594,000) and Mac Collins ($338,000) are the other major GOP candidates.

Isakson remains the unquestioned fundraising champion in the race, however, as he had $3.3 million on hand Dec. 31. Cain reported $1.1 million in the bank (and took to the airwaves for the first time earlier this week), while Collins had a less impressive $686,000 on hand.

The story is brighter for Senate Democrats in the Oklahoma and Illinois races, where their candidates are outdistancing Republicans financially.

The biggest surprise of the reports was Rep. Brad Carson (D-Okla.), who raised nearly $1.1 million in his first three months of fundraising for the seat being vacated by Sen. Don Nickles (R).

While $380,000 of that total came in the form of a transfer from his House campaign committee, Carson still outraised the Republican frontrunner, former Oklahoma City Mayor Kirk Humphreys, $710,000 to $568,000.

Carson more than doubled Humphreys’ cash-on-hand total as well, with $1 million in the bank to $429,000 for the Republican.

Carson appears to have an unimpeded path in the primary while Humphreys will be challenged by state Corporation Commissioner Bob Anthony, who did not file a fundraising report. Former Rep. Tom Coburn (R) is also considering the race.

The situation in Illinois is considerably more muddled as 13 candidates (seven Democrats and six Republicans) are competing for the seat of retiring Sen. Peter Fitzgerald (R).

Businessman Blair Hull (D) is using his vast personal wealth to dominate the financial ledgers in the race.

He raised $4.5 million in the period, the most of any incumbent or challenger, with all but a few thousand dollars coming from his own pocket. Hull has now loaned himself $6 million for the campaign.

He also led every Senate candidate in the country in spending, disbursing $5.6 million in the last three months of the year on a vast ad campaign as well as numerous political consultants and staff.

Hull’s spending left him behind three other Democrats in cash on hand.

State Comptroller Dan Hynes (D) had $1.83 million in the bank, while state Sen. Barack Obama, whose strong fundraising has surprised neutral observers in the state, had $1.79 million left to spend. Former Chicago Board of Education President Gery Chico showed $761,000 in the bank.

Former investment baker Jack Ryan continued to spend freely of his own money in the Republican race; he doled out $1.3 million in the quarter, which left him with $36,000 in the bank.

Wealthy dairyman Jim Oberweis, a candidate for Senate in 2002, had the largest remaining war chest on the GOP side with $641,000 in the bank.

Putting aside open seats, there are only two incumbents in any real danger at this point: Minority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.) and Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska).

Former Alaska Gov. Tony Knowles (D) outraised Murkowski by $170,000 in the period, but the appointed Senator had almost $900,000 more on hand than Knowles did through Dec. 31.

In South Dakota, Daschle has a huge fundraising head start over former Rep. John Thune (R).

Daschle showed $3.9 million in the bank on Dec. 31; Thune had not begun raising money for the 2004 Senate race at that point.

Lauren Legard, Zach Miller, Lauren W. Whittington and Nicole Duran contributed to this report.

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