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Money Matters: Grading the Campaign Finance Reports

Money, money, money! (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

The Fix, as regular readers know, was something of a nerd back in our school days. We loved the work, the reading and -- especially -- the grades.

Yes, the grades. Of course, we learned later in life that a grade was nothing more than an arbitrary rating of our performance by an overworked teacher who brought his or her own biases to the grading process. (We kid -- sort of.)

Still . . . old habits die hard. And, like them or hate them, grades are still currency in our culture.

So, when we began to sift through the mass of campaign finance reports filed by candidates for federal (and state) office over the last week -- covering fundraising from April 1 to June 30 -- it occurred to us that the best way to boil down the best and the worst of the last three months was via grades.

Since we always hated the dreaded "B+" or "C-" -- we once received a "B+-" on a paper (not kidding) -- we have simplified the grading system for our own purposes: candidates received either an "A" (outstanding), a "C" (so-so) or an "F" (bad).

And away we go!


Roy Blunt: Blunt's $1.44 million haul over the last three months represents, as we wrote, the most clear turnaround in a Senate candidacy in recent memory. Blunt now leads Secretary of State Robin Carnahan in cash on hand and is back in the game to keep the Show Me State in the Republican column in 2010.

Jack Conway: Kentucky's attorney general made clear over the last three months that he is the favorite for the Democratic nomination in the Bluegrass State. Conway outraised Lt. Gov. Dan Mongiardo, his primary rival, by more than $1 million between April 1 and June 30 -- a stunning achievement.

Charlie Crist: We almost broke our prohibition against pluses and minuses in our grading system for the Florida governor who collected $4.3 million over the last three months. That sort of showing -- even in spite of the high expectations for Crist -- comes very close to meriting an "A+". Crist's cash is almost certainly determinative in his primary race against former state House Speaker Marco Rubio who raised just $340,000 in the same period of time.

Bill Haslam: The mayor of Knoxville raised $3.8 million in the first six months of 2009 in his bid for the open Tennessee governor's seat -- a massive total, particularly when one considers that he faces a primary fight against Rep. Zach Wamp and Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsay.

Rob Portman: Portman continues to prove himself as one of the most able fundraisers running for Senate in 2010. The former Ohio Republican congressman brought in $1.7 million between April 1 and June 30 and ended last month with a whopping $4.3 million on hand.

Harry Reid: The Senate majority leader takes his politics seriously -- as evidenced by the $3.25 million he raised (and the $7.3 million he salted away) by the end of June. Reid is at or near the top of Republicans' target list in 2010 and, knowing that, he has done everything he possibly could to make the bar for entry for a serious GOP candidate very high. Sources suggest Rep. Dean Heller is still actively considering a bid but his $255,000 in the bank means he would start the race in a major financial hole.

Mitt Romney: As we wrote this morning, Romney's $1.6 million take via his Free and Strong America PAC over the first six months of the year makes him the clear fundraising powerhouse of potential 2012 candidates. And, his willingness to dole money out to candidates and states with 2012 influence should clear up any doubt about whether or not he is running.


Mike Castle: The Delaware Republican did nothing over the last three months to signal that he is going to run for the First State's open Senate seat in 2010. Castle raised just $125,000 during that time although he still has $861,000 sitting in the bank -- solid seed money if he decides to run. Democrats are almost certain to nominate Delaware Attorney General Beau Biden who remains in Iraq and, obviously, has not raised any money for his potential campaign.

Kirsten Gillibrand: Senate Democrats lauded Gillibrand's $1.5 million quarter as a stunning success -- especially when compared to the $578,000 raised by Rep. Carolyn Maloney who is challenging her in a primary next year. But, remember that Gillibrand is not only raising money in one of the best donor states in the country -- New York -- but also has the full weight of the White House as well as the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee and Sen. Chuck Schumer (N.Y.) behind her candidacy. Add to those facts that Gillibrand has a reputation as among the fiercest of fundraisers in the Democratic party and we assumed she might crest more than $2 million raised. Is Gillibrand still the favorite in next year's primary? Absolutely. Did she put away Maloney over the last three months? Absolutely not.

Trey Grayson: On the one hand, Grayson, Kentucky's Republican secretary of state, raised more than $600,000 in less than two months of active fundraising. On the other, he still seems unwilling to simply acknowledge the obvious: he needs to declare his candidacy to push Sen. Jim Bunning (R) out of the race.

Bill Ritter: The Democratic governor of Colorado raised just $400,000 over the past three months, a total sure to embolden Republicans who are becoming increasingly convinced that Ritter is vulnerable in 2010.


Jennifer Brunner: The Ohio secretary of state put together her second straight underwhelming fundraising quarter by bringing in just $228,000 over the last three months. Brunner's low total is all the more remarkable when considering that a series of polls show the Democratic Senate primary between her and Lt. Gov. Lee Fisher is a pure toss up. Fisher's $900,000 raised is not exactly a blow-the-doors-off number but when compared to Brunner, he looks like Charlie Crist. Brunner may not be long in the primary race.

Corrine Brown: Supporters of the Florida congresswoman insist that she is looking seriously at running for the open seat being vacated by Sen. Mel Martinez (R) in 2010. The $44,000 she raised over the last three months and the $40,000 she had on hand at the end of June suggest otherwise. Compare Brown's paltry fundraising to the nearly $1.2 million Rep. Kendrick Meek (D) raised for his own Florida Senate bid and it's clear that Brown has a long way to go to be taken seriously as a statewide candidate.

Jim Bunning: The Kentucky Republican brought in $302,000 over the last three months -- the lowest amount raised for any senator seeking reelection in 2010. Bunning's lackluster fundraising coupled with his truculence about acknowledging the obvious -- he cannot hold this seat next November -- ensures him a failing grade.

Colorado Republicans: Neither Aurora City Councilman Ryan Frazier ($140,000 raised) nor Weld County District Attorney Ken Buck ($332,000 raised) did
much over the last three months to take advantage of the vulnerability of appointed Sen. Michael Bennet (D) who brought in $1.2 million over the same time frame.

By Chris Cillizza  |  July 16, 2009; 1:37 PM ET
Categories:  Governors , House , Senate  
Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   StumbleUpon   Technorati   Google Buzz   Previous: The Most Important Number in Politics Today
Next: Hall of Fame: The Case Against Tip O'Neill


"... what country can preserve its liberties, if it's rulers are not
warned from time to time, that this people preserve the spirit of
resistance? Let them take arms. The remedy is to set them right as
to the facts, pardon and pacify them. What signify a few lives lost
in a century or two? The tree of liberty must be refreshed from
time to time, with the blood of patriots and tyrants."

Thomas Jefferson (1787)

Posted by: Lisa421 | July 17, 2009 2:59 PM | Report abuse

Exemplary of the new Republican focus on violence, VA Tea Bagger (and candidate!) Catherine Crabill says...

"We have a chance to fight this battle at the ballot box before we have to resort to the bullet box," Crabill said. "But that's the beauty of our Second Amendment right. I am glad for all of us who enjoy the use of firearms for hunting. But make no mistake. That was not the intent of the Founding Fathers. Our Second Amendment right was to guard against tyranny."

Posted by: shrink2 | July 17, 2009 12:04 PM | Report abuse

Wow, really?

Posted by: chrisfox8 | July 17, 2009 11:16 AM | Report abuse

Assault and/or murder of born people, even CEOs, is still illegal.

Posted by: JakeD | July 17, 2009 9:39 AM | Report abuse

These stinking sacks of excrement are no longer a fire at your doorstep.

Once again, masters of your universe, as if nothing happened.


And to think they can go out in public without fear or reservation, nobody will attack them. And no, not because we're a civilized and nonviolent people, gollygoshno, but rather because so many of us blame ourselves for our economic dilemma; it's our fault. We didn't work hard enough, we didn't get up early enough, we're all pioneers an' self-reliant an' stuff.

In most countried they'd have to travel in tanks and live in fortresses and still they'd eventually get offed.

Posted by: chrisfox8 | July 17, 2009 12:34 AM | Report abuse

"Mr. Paulson, a staunch critic of government intervention into the financial markets, defended his decision as necessary to prevent the financial system from collapsing."

Typical a "conservative" becomes a socialist when it is time to save his friends.

And now? Instantly: HUGE Profits.

These stinking sacks of excrement are no longer a fire at your doorstep.

Once again, masters of your universe, as if nothing happened.

You argue all day whether the Democrats or Republicans are more beholden to these oligarchs.

Posted by: shrink2 | July 16, 2009 7:58 PM | Report abuse

parkerfl writes
"Romney has the best potential campaign organization ready to be put to work immediately for 2012. He has the money, the supporters and the skills to turn his campaign into a GOP version of Obama in 2008."

That's a fairly bold assertion. I'm sure he has the money, but I question whether he ahs the supporters and the skills. Part of the challenge faced by Romney in 2008 was his softness on social issues - having to run against his record in order to pass the base's litmus test. While he may have established enough history with the base to avoid that problem in 2012 - he will face the challenge again when it comes time to attract moderates in the general. I don't see it happening - he doesn't have the charisma to pull it off. When it comes to supporters, I suspect you underestimate the size and competence of the Obama organization. The guys at 538 did a number of articles on each campaign's ground game in the months before the election. The Obama groundgame surpassed McCain's by leaps and bounds. Perhaps Romney will be able to reinvigorate the base and attract more volunteers - and more enthusiastic volunteers - than McCain did. But for him to be 'a GOP version of Obama' will require an enormous shift in enthusiasm unlike any we've ever seen in US politics.

Posted by: bsimon1 | July 16, 2009 3:59 PM | Report abuse

Romney has the best potential campaign organization ready to be put to work immediately for 2012. He has the money, the supporters and the skills to turn his campaign into a GOP version of Obama in 2008.


Romney isn't Obama.

Obama has inspired people to public service, Romney doesn't inspire anything. He's boring, and a lot of Republicans won't vote for him, either because he's a Mormon or because he's not really a social conservative.

Also the whole "businessman" shtick is out of date.

Posted by: chrisfox8 | July 16, 2009 3:55 PM | Report abuse

Romney has the best potential campaign organization ready to be put to work immediately for 2012. He has the money, the supporters and the skills to turn his campaign into a GOP version of Obama in 2008.

Posted by: parkerfl1 | July 16, 2009 3:45 PM | Report abuse

The senator announced in Dallas on Monday that she had raised $6.7 million in the first half of this year, giving her $12.5 million to take on Perry. The governor raised $4.2 million in the same period – although his fundraising was limited because the Legislature was in session most of that time – and has $9.3 million to spend, his campaign said last week.
I will be the first to say that a statewide campaign in TX costs more, too.

Posted by: mark_in_austin | July 16, 2009 3:41 PM | Report abuse

MN Post dives into the MN delegation's fundraising efforts. Races to watch: Freshman Paulsen in MN-3 & challengers to Rep Bachmann in MN-6. The late fundraising windfall for Tinklenberg in the 2008 cycle has re-enthused the DFL for the battle in taking this seat from Rep Bachmann.

Posted by: bsimon1 | July 16, 2009 3:39 PM | Report abuse

Heck, Tom Schieffer announced as the D for Gov in TX and raised more than your "C" group in a couple of weeks.

Posted by: mark_in_austin | July 16, 2009 3:38 PM | Report abuse

I guess Texans are expected to raise more money.

KBH and Goodhair have each raised more than any of these others, including Crist.

Posted by: mark_in_austin | July 16, 2009 3:34 PM | Report abuse

There is literally nothing Corrine Brown could do to be taken seriously as a candidate in Florida. I don't care if she out-raised Meek 10 to 1, the woman is a joke.

And I say that as a Democratic constituent of the FL-3.

Posted by: dixielandpunker | July 16, 2009 3:03 PM | Report abuse

I would have added Palin to the C list too. Her PAC brought in around 800k and she still has a job (unlike Romney).
I will say I like this entry alot more than the 20 or so individual posts that leak out over the two weeks at the end of every quarter and give us the same info.

Posted by: AndyR3 | July 16, 2009 3:02 PM | Report abuse


This is a fascinating entry! It puts a lot of races in perspective, even though there's time for the 'Cs' and 'Fs' to catch up, it's a vivid signpost.

Money, alas, will always be part of politics. I'm sure that Obama's huge financial advantage helped him seal the deal against his respected, but lackluster rival (I'm talking about John McCain, of course) last autumn, Sarah Palin's presence on the ticket notwithstanding.

I'd be interested to see Sestak's vs. Specter's numbers in the next quarter--this, in my humble opinion, will be THE primary race to watch in 2010 (unless the Dem. establishment force him out, of course).

Don't you think a graph might be even more helpful next time?

P.S. I'm sure your 'B+' grade was an anomaly from what I suspect were your usual 'A/A+' grades, wasn't it?

Posted by: sverigegrabb | July 16, 2009 2:16 PM | Report abuse

I'm surprised at the omission of Creigh Deeds from the report cards. Perhaps you need to revisit your grading system and add at least a B.


Posted by: FairlingtonBlade | July 16, 2009 1:54 PM | Report abuse

Blunt is one of the most troglodytic men in the Senate, getting a top grade from the NRA and from the business lobby. Let him raise all the money he wants so long as he loses.

Posted by: chrisfox8 | July 16, 2009 1:49 PM | Report abuse

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