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Posted at 10:27 AM ET, 02/ 2/2011

Surveying Senate fundraising (or lack thereof) for the class of 2012

By Aaron Blake

An analysis of year-end fundraising reports for the 33 Senators up for re-election in 2012 suggests that cash collection wasn't a major priority for many of them in the closing weeks of last year -- a lack of focus that could impact their chances heading into next year.

Most Senate incumbents started 2011 with campaign warchests of at least $1 million, according to filings with the Federal Election Commission this week. But some start out well below that figure and haven't been in a rush to raise money, even as it's become clear their 2012 races will be no cakewalk.

Take Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.), who we learned this week will be challenged by Rep. Denny Rehberg (R-Mont.) in 2012. After raising $128,000 in the fourth quarter of 2010, Tester ended the year with just $562,000 on hand.

That's only slightly more than Rehberg's $553,000, despite the fact that Rehberg has had to run for reelection twice over the last four years (admittedly in less-competitive races) and Tester hasn't.

Virginia Democratic Sen. Jim Webb is currently weighing retirement and continues to push off fundraising. He pulled in just $12,000 in the fourth quarter and had $444,000 on hand.

Webb faces a potential rematch with former Sen. George Allen (R-Va.). Allen entered the race after the most recent filing period, so he hasn't filed a report yet. But in their 2006 matchup, Allen raised nearly $15 million and outspent Webb nearly two-to-one -- a sign of his fundraising capacity.

Nebraska Democratic Sen. Ben Nelson who is also on the retirement watch list, raised just $80,000 in the fourth quarter, giving him $1.45 million cash on hand. And another retirement possibility, Sen. Daniel Akaka (D-Hawaii), has just $66,000 on hand (he rarely fundraises in off-years).

Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), who just won his seat in a special election and has to defend it right away in 2012, raised $18,000 and had $377,000 on hand. (Though Manchin taking a break from fundraising is completely understandable.)

It's not just Democrats, though. A few Republican senators facing potential primaries with tea party candidates have been slow to get started.

Sen. Richard Lugar (R-Ind.), who has practically been begging for a tea party challenge, raised $173,000 for the quarter. He's got a solid $2.35 million bank account, but that's mostly left over from his last reelection campaign, when he didn't face a major-party opponent.

Maine Republican Sen. Olympia Snowe collected $79,000 for the quarter and has $1.2 million on hand. (Democrats aren't likely to make a run at the popular Snowe if she seeks another term in 2012, but she's a prime tea party target.)

Some incumbents who see their reelection prospects threatened did up their game over the final three months of last year.

Utah Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch, who could be challenged by Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R), raised a solid $400,000 in the fourth quarter and had $2.5 million in the bank.

Likewise, Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.) continued to build an immense war chest, raising $734,000 in the fourth quarter and banking $7.2 million. He could face both a tough primary and general election, but whoever runs against him will almost almost undoubtedly get outspent.

Among Democrats, Sen. Bob Casey (D-Pa.) raised $621,000 and banked $1.3 million, while Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) stepped up her fundraising, pulling in $537,000 and banking $2 million for what looks like it could be a tough 2012 contest.

Sens. Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.) and Herb Kohl (D-Wis.) are both on retirement watch, but less so now than before they filed their fourth quarter reports. Bingaman raised $216,000 and Kohl self-funded $1 million -- both signs of men preparing to run for another term.

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who will apparently face a challenge from state Auditor Tom Salmon (R), raised a surprising $485,000 for the quarter and increased his cash on hand from $111,000 to $536,000.

Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), the former chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, has also been stocking money, raising $237,000 in the fourth quarter and banking $2.4 million.

Recent history provides strong evidence that incumbents with less than $1 million on hand at the start of the two-year election cycle often lose.

Of all in the incumbents who were targeted in 2010, only six of them entered the cycle with less than $1 million in the bank, and only one of the six is still in the Senate. Three retired, one lost a general election and two lost primaries (Sen. Lisa Murkowski later won reelection as a write-in candidate).

Currently, there are at least seven potentially vulnerable Democratic senators and one Republican with less than $1 million in the bank. Numbers weren't available for Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) Tuesday morning, but he could be in that group as well.

Several vulnerable incumbents from 2010 had several million dollars stashed away at this point two years ago, including Sens. Arlen Specter (D-Pa.), Harry Reid (D-Nev.), Russ Feingold (D-Wis.), David Vitter (R-La.), Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Evan Bayh (D-Ind.).

Money didn't matter for Feingold and Specter -- both of whom lost -- or Bayh who retired. But for the other incumbents, their financial edges played a major role in their successful reelection bids.

Here's a rundown of potentially vulnerable senators and their current cash on hand amount (numbers were not available Tuesday for some members):

Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.) $7.2 million
Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) $2.5 million
Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) $2.4 million
Sen. Richard Lugar (R-Ind.) $2.35 million
Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) $2 million
Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) $1.5 million
Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) $1.45 million
Sen. Bob Casey (D-Pa.) $1.3 million
Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) $1.2 million
Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) $1.1 million
Sen. Herb Kohl (D-Wis.) $1 million
Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) $900,000
Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.) $562,000
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) $536,000
Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.) $511,000
Sen. Jim Webb (D-Va.) $444,000
Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) $377,000
Sen. John Ensign (R-Nev.) $224,000
Sen. Daniel Akaka (D-Hawaii) $66,000

By Aaron Blake  | February 2, 2011; 10:27 AM ET
Categories:  Fundraising  
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