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Cash Could Mean Protection for GOP Senators

Cold, hard cash may be the salvation for some of the Republicans’ most vulnerable Senate incumbents next year — and could thwart the Democrats’ hopes for building a working majority in the 111th Congress.

All four of the Senate Republicans whom Democrats are targeting most heavily in 2008 closed September with a substantial lead in cash on hand over their likely Democratic challengers. The next tier of Democratic targets had even larger financial cushions.

Only in four open-seat races — Virginia, New Mexico, Colorado and Nebraska — do Democrats appear to have the ability to compete financially, though in New Mexico and Nebraska, where the vacancies are relatively new, Republican candidates have a fundraising head start for now.

Because the Democrats’ top Senate targets are in states that are trending their way — particularly as President Bush’s poll numbers remain low — money may not be enough to save the potentially vulnerable GOP incumbents. What’s more, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee retains a healthy fundraising edge over the National Republican Senatorial Committee, meaning the DSCC has a far greater ability to help its challengers than the NRSC does to defend vulnerable seats. But in all four states, the financial disparity between incumbent and challenger is striking.

In Oregon, a state that last voted for a Republican presidential nominee in 1984, Sen. Gordon Smith (R) had more than $4 million in the bank on Sept. 30 after raising $829,000 in the third quarter of the year. The preferred candidate of national Democrats, state House Speaker Jeff Merkley (D), finished the period with just $211,000 on hand — and he must first get through a primary with liberal lawyer Steve Novick, who actually had more money in the bank ($219,000) at the end of the period.

In Minnesota, a state that last voted for a GOP presidential nominee in 1972, Sen. Norm Coleman (R) was sitting on almost $5 million after raising $1.7 million from July 1 to Sept. 30. One of the two leading Democrats seeking to succeed him, comedian Al Franken, raised $1.9 million during the period and finished September with more than $2.4 million on hand. Wealthy trial attorney Mike Ciresi (D) had $608,000 in the bank.

In Maine, Sen. Susan Collins (R) collected more than $1 million in the quarter and finished with $3.1 million on hand — about $1 million more than Rep. Tom Allen (D), who raised about $666,000.

And in New Hampshire, Sen. John Sununu (R), who has trailed former Gov. Jeanne Shaheen (D) in all public polls, nevertheless had a significant financial edge through Sept. 30. He raised $713,000 in the three-month period and banked $2.7 million; Shaheen, who only entered the race in mid-September, raised $188,000 in less than two weeks and banked $178,000.

Shaheen did outspend Sununu when they squared off in 2002, and she should be able to stock her campaign coffers quickly, thanks in part to an early endorsement from EMILY’s List, the Democratic fundraising powerhouse.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) is among the long-shot Democratic targets for 2008. But he banked $6.8 million through Sept. 30 — and the Democrats have yet to find a candidate to challenge him.

Daniel Jackson and Brandace Simmons contributed to this report.

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