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Money Flows to Senators

At least 11 Senators facing re-election next year began the cycle with more than $1 million in their campaign accounts, newly filed fundraising reports show.

The year-end reports cover the fourth quarter of 2004 and provide the first glimpse into the Senate financial playing field for 2006.

Senate Democrats are defending a total of 18 seats this cycle, a handful of which are held by narrowly elected first-term Senators.

Not surprisingly, most of those Senators have the largest war chests heading into 2005.

Democratic Sens. Ben Nelson (Neb.), Bill Nelson (Fla.) and Debbie Stabenow (Mich.), all of whom were first elected in 2000, ended last year with more than $1 million in the bank. The report for Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) had not yet been received by the Senate Records Office on Tuesday, but she is expected to show far more than the $5.3 million she had on hand at the end of September.

Another fundraising titan, Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.), who is seeking an eighth term in 2006, raised $729,000 in the quarter and ended the year with $4.7 million on hand.

While Clinton’s numbers are likely to eclipse those of her Michigan colleague, Stabenow led the rest of the Senate newcomers, taking in $367,000 in the last three months of 2004.

Rep. Candace Miller (R-Mich.), considered the strongest potential challenger to Stabenow, said last month that she would not run. Former Rep. Nick Smith (R-Mich), who retired last year, has also floated the possibility of running for Senate and he ended the year with just $24,000 in his campaign account.

Two other vulnerable first-term Democrats, Sens. Maria Cantwell (Wash.) and Mark Dayton (Minn.), were on the higher end of the fourth-quarter fundraising scale.

Cantwell raised $254,000 and ended the year with $435,000 in the bank. More significantly, her campaign expects to be operationally debt free in the next couple of weeks when she will pay off $130,000 in remaining bank loans from her last race.

Cantwell spent $10 million of her personal fortune on her 2000 bid against then-Sen. Slade Gorton (R-Wash.). Since then she has seen her net worth plummet, forcing her to postpone payment of several bank loans that had previously been secured with her fortune.

As of Dec. 31, Cantwell’s campaign still listed $2.5 million in debts owed to herself, but a spokeswoman for the Senator said she is focused solely on fundraising for her upcoming race and not on paying herself back at this point.

“[The] only goal and objective is to move forward in 2006,” said Cantwell spokeswoman Charla Neuman.

Possible Republican challengers to Cantwell include wealthy businessman and former state Sen. Dino Rossi, the loser in the state’s razor-thin 2004 gubernatorial election, and former Rep. Rick White.

Dayton also relied heavily on his personal wealth to finance his 2000 race against then-Sen. Rod Grams (R-Minn.), but he is not expected to do the same next year.

He raised $224,000 in the fourth quarter of 2004 but after spending more than he took in for the period, he showed just $191,000 in the bank at the beginning of this year.

Rep. Mark Kennedy (R-Minn.) is considered the most likely challenger to Dayton, whose popularity in the state has dropped according to a recent poll.

But Kennedy faced a somewhat competitive re-election fight for his House seat and his year-end bank balance reflects that battle. Kennedy spent $1.4 million in the final months of the year to secure his 6th district seat, but he ended 2004 with just $66,000 in the bank.

Another top fundraiser among Democrats was Sen. Dianne Feinstein (Calif.), who raised $267,000 and had $3 million in the bank. Feinstein is expected to face a vigorous challenge next year.

Sen. Jim Jeffords (I-Vt.), who is facing voters for the first time since his 2001 party-switch, ended the year with $2 million in his campaign war chest.

Florida’s Bill Nelson showed $2.1 million on hand while Nebraska’s Ben Nelson had $1.1 million. Both men began the cycle as top targets for the GOP.

Bill Nelson may see a challenge from Rep. Katherine Harris (R), who ended 2004 with just $48,000 in reserve. Still, the high-profile former Florida secretary of state is not likely to have any trouble raising money if she does green light a Senate bid.

Republicans are still trying to recruit a top-name challenger into the race against Ben Nelson, after their top two choices decided to take a pass.

Meanwhile, Sen. Rick Santorum (Pa.), pegged as Democrats’ top target for defeat, led the pack in fundraising among Republicans, who are defending 15 seats in 2006.

Santorum raised $430,000 in the period and ended December with $1.4 million in the bank. He was also the only Senator in the 2006 class whose reports were available to spend more than $500,000 in the fourth quarter.

Democrats are attempting to woo state Treasurer Bob Casey Jr. (D) into the race against Santorum, who won re-election with 52 percent of the vote in 2000. Other possible candidates include former state Treasurer Barbara Hafer and ex-Rep. Joe Hoeffel, who lost to Sen. Arlen Specter (R) last year.

Behind Santorum, Sens. Mike DeWine (Ohio) and Dick Lugar (Ind.) also posted strong fundraising totals for the quarter, despite the fact that they are not expected to face highly competitive challenges next year.

DeWine raised $375,000 from October through December and he had $2.1 million left over at the first of the year.

Still, DeWine continues to be plagued by retirement rumors — or speculation that he might return to Ohio and run for governor. That scenario doesn’t appear likely, but if it did Rep. Ted Strickland (D), who recently declined a gubernatorial bid, would jump into an open Senate race. Strickland ended the year with $444,000 in the bank. Rep. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), who had $2.1 million in reserves, is also considered a possible open-seat Senate candidate.

Lugar, who won re-election with 67 percent of the vote in 2000, raised $333,000 in the quarter and showed $2.3 million on hand on Dec. 31.

Meanwhile, Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas) led all of her colleagues when it comes to cash in the bank. She reported a war chest of $6.7 million, more than any other 2006 candidate, although Clinton may eclipse her total.

Hutchison is seriously weighing a run for Texas governor in 2006 and can transfer that money for use on that bid.

Sen. George Allen (Va.), one of two Republicans first elected in 2000, ended the year with $1.1 million in the bank. Virginia Gov. Mark Warner (D) is still considered a possible challenger to Allen in 2006. But if Warner doesn’t run, Allen is likely to get a pass.

Sen. Lincoln Chafee (R-R.I.), who appears more likely to be targeted by Democrats, was one of the poorest fundraisers for the quarter. Chafee raised $56,000 in the period and had $668,000 left in his coffers. Democrats were encouraged by a recent poll showing Rep. Jim Langevin (D-R.I.) well ahead of Chafee. Rhode Island Secretary of State Matt Brown (D) is also weighing a run.

Joining Chafee among the poorest fundraisers for the period were first-term Sens. Jim Talent (R-Mo.), John Ensign (R-Nev.) and Tom Carper (D-Del.). Carper and Ensign are expected to cruise to re-election while Democrats are still searching for a top-tier challenger in Missouri.

Sen. Herb Kohl (D-Wis.), who has shot down speculation that he will not run again, showed the least amount in the bank of any Senator running for re-election. He had a paltry $1,500 in his campaign account.

But even if he were to get a real challenge he would have little trouble funding his campaign. Kohl is the owner of the Milwaukee Bucks and his personal fortune was estimated by Roll Call to be at least $270 million.

Among the other Senators still considered on retirement watch, Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.) had $384,000 and Sen. Trent Lott (R-Miss.) had $773,000 at the end of the year.

In the only official open-seat race of the cycle so far, Chattanooga Mayor Bob Corker (R) and Rep. Harold Ford Jr. (D) have a substantial lead in the money chase.

Corker and Ford are expected to seek the seat of Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.), who has said that he will not run for a third term in 2006.

Ford ended 2004 with $1.1 million on hand while Corker, who began raising money for a Senate bid last fall, showed $2 million in the bank.

Former Rep. Ed Bryant (R-Tenn.) has also announced that he will run but he did not begin his fundraising efforts until this year. Bryant, who lost the GOP Senate nomination in 2002, released a poll this week that showed him with a sizeable lead in a hypothetical three-way primary.

Nicole Duran and Amanda Arcuri contributed to this report.

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