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Getting a Head Start

First Term Senators Stock Up for 2008 Re-election Bids

Their next rendezvous with the ballot box may be more than three years away, but a majority of the 33 Senators up for re-election in 2008 have been steadily stockpiling campaign cash — some at a much more aggressive clip than others.

An analysis of second-quarter fundraising reports showed that at the end of June, seven Senators facing voters in 2008 showed campaign war chests in excess of $1 million.

Senate Minority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) currently has the most cash available. He showed a little more than $2 million in his campaign account on June 30.

Meanwhile, Sens. John Kerry (D-Mass.) and John Cornyn (R-Texas) were the only two in the group to raise more than $1 million in the first six months of 2005.

Kerry, the 2004 Democratic presidential nominee, has outpaced his classmates so far this year, taking in almost $2.4 million from January to June. However, Kerry also spent more than $5 million in the period and ended last month with a modest $233,000 in his Senate account. He is actively pursuing another presidential bid in ’08.

Cornyn, who succeeded Sen. Phil Gramm (R-Texas) in January 2003, has distinguished himself early as being

among the top fundraisers in the class. He raised a little more than $1 million in the first six months of 2005 and showed a balance of $1.7 million at the end of the second quarter, ranking right behind Durbin in available campaign cash.

On Wednesday, Cornyn said he was pleased overall with where his campaign finances stood and noted that Texas is an expansive and expensive state in which to campaign.

“It’s always good to have a healthy war chest,” Cornyn said. “It shows others that you’re serious about running and you’re that much closer to achieving your goal of running and winning.”

Behind Cornyn, the two Senators with the next biggest bank accounts are also facing their first re-election campaigns in 2008.

Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.) had more than $1.3 million in his account on June 30 while Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) had just less than $1.3 million.

Graham was also among the top five fundraisers this year for Senators up in 2008. He raised $958,000 in June.

Both Chambliss and Graham came to the Senate directly from the House, where fundraising is often a much more sustained exercise because Members run for re-election every two years.

“Fundraising is a part of being in public office and something I’ve always been successful with,” Chambliss said. “We’ll continue to raise more as we get further into the cycle. It’s not necessarily the most fun part of the job, but something you have to do, and we’ll continue to do it.”

Chambliss defeated then-Sen. Max Cleland (D-Ga.) in a heated 2002 campaign and could face a tough challenge in 2008, even though the state has shifted toward the GOP in recent years.

Kerry is one of a handful of Senators whose 2008 re-election campaigns may overlap with possible White House bids.

Sen. Joseph Biden (D-Del.), who is among those considering launching a presidential campaign, showed $1.2 million in the bank on June 30. Biden has also been one of the most aggressive fundraisers so far this year, taking in $928,000 in the first six months.

The Foreign Relations Committee ranking member raked in $713,000 alone in the second quarter of this year.

On the Republican side, Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.) is also considered a potential 2008 presidential candidate, but ended June with a modest $197,000 in his campaign account.

Meanwhile, Sen. Gordon Smith (R-Ore.) was the third most aggressive fundraiser in his class over the first six months of the year. Smith raised $977,000 in the period and ended June with just more than $1 million in the bank.

Democrats targeted Smith in 2002, although their nominee, Secretary of State Bill Bradbury (D) fell far short and Smith went on to win every county in the state but one.

“Republicans in Oregon are always on the endangered species list, and I obviously take very seriously my election and re-election,” Smith said on Wednesday when asked about his aggressive fundraising pace. “I’m getting ready to rumble if I need to.”

Campaign finance reports show that Smith has also continued to pay down some of the personal debt that lingers from his first Senate race in 1996. Smith has four active campaign committees on file with the Federal Election Commission and still owes a little less than $1.7 million to himself.

Between January 1 and July 1, Smith repaid himself $320,000 in funds he had loaned his 1996 campaign.

“I have always said I would follow the laws on that repayment and that it was my intention to try and recover campaign debt,” he said.

Several Senators have taken clear steps to show they are running for re-election — namely by adding 2008 to the name of their campaign committees. Sens. Norm Coleman (R-Minn.), Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Biden have already done so.

Among that group, Coleman is considered the most vulnerable and ended June with a healthy $825,000 in the bank.

Meanwhile, Sen. Pete Domenici (R-N.M.), a possible retiree in 2008, showed the most meager campaign fund among those up in three years.

Asked Wednesday whether he’s made a decision about his re-election plans, Domenici said it’s too early for that conversation.

“I haven’t made that statement to anybody yet,” the Energy and Natural Resources Chairman said.

Sen. John Warner (R-Va.), another Senator on the 2008 retirement watch list, raised just $20,000 in the first six months of 2005. However, he showed $938,000 in his campaign war chest and he is not considered particularly vulnerable if he does decide to run for re-election.

Sens. Elizabeth Dole (R-N.C.) and Tim Johnson (D-S.D.) were among the other Senators with paltry campaign accounts. While Dole is unlikely to face a serious challenge, Johnson just barely escaped his 2002 race against then-Rep. John Thune (R-S.D.). Thune defeated then-Minority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.) last year and Johnson could be targeted again.

Jared Allen, Luke Mullins and Teddy Davis contributed to this report.

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