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Money in the Senate Race

The campaign finance reports due in the U.S. Senate race today suggest that despite his lead in recent polls, Kweisi Mfume is still trailing badly in the race for campaign cash.

With barely two months to go to the Sept. 12 primary, Mfume had about $171,000 inn the bank on June 30, the report showed. That's far less than the $2.3 million left in U.S. Rep. Ben Cardin's coffers and less than the figures for Democrats Allan Lichtman and Dennis Rasmussen, who have distinctly lower profiles in this contest.

Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele, the leading Republican candidate, will report raising more than $1.8.million in the quarter, his campaign said, finishing with more than $3.million in the bank.

Will money make a difference?

The relatively small sum for Mfume surprised political analysts, who had expected the former NAACP president's contributions to align more closely with his strong showing in recent polls. "It just doesn't seem to be materializing," said Matthew A. Crenson, a Johns Hopkins University political science professor. "He must be close to desperation right now."

Mfume's campaign took in $135,000, significantly less than it raised in the year's first quarter. . Cardin collected $925,000, falling just short of his first quarter total.

Mfume spokesman Mark Clack said the campaign has been building momentum and expects to report stronger numbers in the next quarter, which ends Sept..30. The campaign raised $45,000 one night this week at an event at the home of Washington power broker Vernon L. Jordan, Clack said.

"The last two weeks, the interest in the campaign and the contributions that are being made is pretty much indicative of a much stronger reporting period," he said. "We're pretty upbeat."

So is the Cardin camp. Spokesman Oren Shur said the wide lead in fundraising over Mfume is a sign that Democrats are familiar with Cardin's record and know that he is "the only candidate with the experience and campaign organization needed to defeat Steele in November."

In addition to the banked $2.3.million, Cardin spent $680,000 on a down payment to reserve television air time during the two weeks leading up to the Sept. 12 primary.

In the past year, Mfume and Cardin have emerged from the 18 Democratic candidates vying for the seat being vacated by Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes (D), with Cardin remaining a quiet but consistent front-runner in fundraising and early polls.

But a Washington Post poll last month June showed Mfume ahead by six points among registered voters, though roughly a third of the electorate had not settled on a candidate.

Analysts said Mfume's strong showing in the poll, despite his limited ability to advertise, suggests a certain resiliency in his campaign -- and, potentially, a vulnerability in Cardin's. "He's an apparently viable candidate who's able to get by without big money backing him," Crenson said.

Among the other Democrats, American University Professor Lichtman said yesterday that he would report $265,000 in the bank at the end of the quarter. Rasmussen, a former county executive in Baltimore County, had $280,000 on hand, his campaign said.

Josh Rales, a Montgomery County businessman and philanthropist, has pledged to spend millions of his own money on the race. A summary of his report was not available yesterday, a campaign spokeswoman said.
Green Party candidate Kevin Zeese, a Takoma Park political and social activist, reported raising nearly $12,200, ending the quarter with more than $16,000 on hand.

Clack, the Mfume spokesman, said he was unsure whether the campaign would be able to advertise in the Washington and Baltimore suburbs. Those areas are considered pivotal in the November general election, said Trevor Parry-Giles, an associate professor at the University of Maryland.

"That kind of money doesn't get you much at all," Parry-Giles, who has served as a creative consultant on hundreds of campaigns, said of Mfume's treasury. "He can maybe buy some TV time in Salisbury, but that's not where he should be trolling for votes."

Eric Rich

By Phyllis Jordan  |  July 15, 2006; 9:24 AM ET
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