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The 7 Most Interesting First Quarter Fundraising Facts
Burr stepped up his fundraising game in the first quarter. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Updated April 17, 10:30 a.m. | With roughly a year to go before the first primaries of 2016, fundraising numbers are among the few benchmarks to assess candidate strength.

A look at first-quarter reports — which were due to the Federal Election Commission Wednesday — shows which members are taking re-election bids seriously and also reveals weaknesses.

Here are seven interesting things from this quarter’s fundraising, covering the three-month period from Jan. 1 to March 31:

Incumbents Who Finally Realized They’re on the Ballot
GOP Sens. Richard M. Burr of North Carolina and Ron Johnson of Wisconsin are top Democratic targets in 2016, as the party looks to net five seats to ensure Senate control.

Neither started the cycle in a strong financial position: Burr raised just more than $250,000 over the entire 2014 cycle, and started the year with $747,000 in cash on hand. Johnson, who ended 2014 with $606,000 in the bank, told CQ Roll Call in February, “in terms of fundraising, I haven’t done a whole lot of it the first four years.”

But both senators stepped it up recently.

Johnson raised $1.3 million, and will report $1.5 million in the bank, according to the Marshfield News Herald. Burr raised $1.8 million, and has $2.4 million in cash on hand, per the television station WRAL.

Ohio Senate Primary Continues
Cincinnati City Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld raised more money than former Gov. Ted Strickland, Democrats’ anointed candidate to take on Republican Sen. Rob Portman. But take a closer look. Strickland brought in $671,000 within 34 days of announcing, while Sittenfeld had more time to collect his haul of $757,000. (In fact, a source close to the Sittenfeld campaign told Ohio Politics Roundup he had raised $500,000 by Feb. 11. Strickland announced his candidacy on Feb. 25.)

Still, Republicans — who would much rather face Sittenfeld — are saying it is an impressive figure. Either way, the number gives Sittenfeld a good reason to stay in the race, even as Ohio Democrats and former President Bill Clinton line up behind Strickland.

Portman raised $2.75 million.

A Rough Start in Maryland Senate Race
Democratic Rep. Donna Edwards has raised just $335,000 for her bid to replace retiring Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski. That number is dwarfed by the $1.25 million haul Rep. Chris Van Hollen, the only other Democrat who has declared his candidacy, said he raised.

Democrats in Maryland have knocked Edwards as a poor fundraiser, and this number doesn’t help.

With several other candidates still looking at the race, Edwards will need to ramp up fundraising efforts to stay competitive.

The Fundraising Titans
Alabama Sen. Richard C. Shelby has been sitting on more than $11 million in cash on hand for the past decade, during which time he has not faced a single competitive re-election. As he prepares to head into another uncontested race, Shelby started the year with $18 million in cash on hand. He almost certainly has increased that number this quarter, though it remains to be seen what he’s planning to spend it on.

In South Dakota, Republican Sen. John Thune finished the quarter with $10.4 million in the bank, making him one of the best-funded Republican incumbents. Thune is raising money like he’s headed for a blockbuster race, but there are only two Democrats who could give him any notable challenge in the deep red state. One of them already has taken himself out of the running.

Blockbuster House Hauls
With smaller territory and often lower profiles, House members are dealing in smaller dollar figures than their Senate counterparts. So when one rakes in more than $500,000 in a quarter, operatives take notice.

Freshman Reps. Carlos Curbelo of Florida and Bruce Poliquin of Maine stunned with $706,000 and $702,000 hauls, respectively, a sign these top Democratic targets in 2016 are not taking chances with their re-elections.

Fellow targeted freshman Rep. Martha McSally of Arizona raised $644,00 — suggesting she is ready for an onslaught of attacks.

On the Democratic side, Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney, who hails from a competitive seat in the New York City suburbs, raised $610,000. Rep. Gwen Graham, the Florida Democrat who holds one of the few districts where Republicans will be on offense, raised $531,000.

Lackluster House Hauls
Members in competitive districts who raise less than $200,000 in a quarter often find themselves more vulnerable.

In that category is freshman Rep. Steve Knight, R-Calif., who raised a minuscule $29,000 this quarter. Knight’s 25th District is competitive territory located in the expensive Los Angeles media market. Knight’s first-quarter haul is not nearly enough to run a competitive campaign in this area.

Rep. Dan Benishek, R-Mich., who may face a primary and a competitive general election in 2016, brought in just $115,000 — a lackluster haul for someone in the majority.

Freshman Rep. Rod Blum, an Iowa Republican who represents a district President Barack Obama carried by a 14-point margin in 2012, raised just $120,000, a surprisingly low sum for a candidate who has been courted by the crowded Republican presidential field looking to play in the Iowa caucuses. But he loaned $500,000 to his campaign.

On the Democratic side, vulnerable Rep. Brad Ashford raised $200,000. It’s a bit more than Democrats expected for a guy who publicly decried the need to fundraise and who has been shedding staff, but isn’t the figure he should have brought in, given his competitive race.

Retirement Watch
Even long-serving members of Congress in relatively safe seats raise money for their re-elections. So when a member posts a low figure, speculation begins about whether they plan to stick around another term.

Rep. Frank A. LoBiondo, R-N.J., raised $77,000 — about half of what he raised in the first quarter of the 2014 election cycle. Retirement rumors circulated about LoBiondo, 68, last cycle, but his campaign calls him “well-positioned” because he had $406,000 in the bank this quarter.

Rep. Jim Costa, D-Calif., who barely won his 2014 re-election, raised just $80,000 in the first quarter — leading the National Republican Congressional Committee to question if Costa, 63, is planning to retire. But Costa’s haul is more than the $30,000 he raised in the same quarter of the 2014 cycle.

And though some Republicans hoped retiring GOP Rep. Michael G. Fitzpatrick of Pennsylvania would change his mind and run for re-election, his fundraising report tamps down that possibility. He raised $0.

Correction April 17, 10:31 a.m.

Due to a rounding error, a previous version of this story misstated the cash-on-hand number with which Burr started the cycle. He began with $747,000. Due to a reporting error by WRAL, an earlier version of this post misstated how much Burr raised. He raised $1.8 million. Due to other rounding errors, the story also misstated the amount of money raised by Strickland, Poliquin, McSally and Blum. They raised $671,000, $702,000, $644,000 and $120,000, respectively.

The story also misstated the amount of money raised by Curbelo. He raised $706,000.


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